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Abbott encouraged by CAA football meetings; UMaine’s future
Nobody knows what changes will occur on the college football landscape in the coming years.
Conferences in the Football Bowl Subdivision continue to realign to create a better power base, while some Football Championship Subdivision programs are intent on joining the party.
For now, the University of Maine feels secure in its affiliation with the Colonial Athletic Association.
The CAA held its annual football meetings last weekend at Hilton Head, S.C., where coaches and administrators discussed numerous issues pertinent to their member schools.
“Every school represents its own interests, but they all care deeply and sincerely about the best interests of the conference and the best interests of the member institutions, and that was very refreshing,” said UMaine athletic director Steve Abbott.
“I know now that I’m not going to wake up one day and have a note from (CAA Commissioner) Tom Yeager saying, ‘thanks for stopping by the CAA,’” Abbott quipped.
The CAA is a football league in transition.
Massachusetts, a charter member of the league that began in 1946 as the Yankee Conference, will move to the FBS level in 2012. Rhode Island, another YanCon original, is leaving the CAA in 2013 to compete in the Northeast Conference, a reduced-scholarship FCS league.
Those moves came after Northeastern and Hofstra disbanded their football programs at the end of the 2009 season.
With Villanova being considered for membership in the Big East, coach Jack Cosgrove’s UMaine team and New Hampshire will soon be the only Northeast teams in the CAA.
Meanwhile, Old Dominion (coached by former UMaine quarterback and assistant coach Bobby Wilder) begins CAA play this year with Georgia State slated to follow in 2012.
If Villanova stays, that would leave 10 schools in the CAA for 2013.
In spite of the changes, there is a comfort level about the strength and stability of the CAA.
“Everybody in the conference is very happy with the conference,” Abbott said. “The teams enjoy playing each other and we have good rivalries within the conference. It’s the most competitive I-AA conference in the country.”
For UMaine and UNH, the cost of travel is likely to impact their willingness and ability to remain in the CAA once the 2013 alignment is in place.
While each can bus to play the other, there is a possibility of having to make four charter plane trips for league games in a given year. At approximately $75,000 each — not including lodging and meals — an already fiscally challenged UMaine program might not be able to afford such an arrangement.
“That’s the No. 1 issue for the northern schools,” Abbott said. “Our travel burden is different than our competitors in the conference.”
The alternatives include forming a new Northeast-based conference that includes UMaine and UNH — possibly with the likes of America East Conference members Stony Brook and Albany in the mix — or aligning with another league in the region.
Abbott said UMaine must begin looking at its options, which include staying in the CAA.
“Everybody (in the CAA) agreed that this is at the top of our agenda for the 2012 meetings,” Abbott said.
“Everybody is committed to working together, talking together, planning together,” he added. “We’ve got fantastic conference leadership with Tom Yeager as the commissioner and (director of football operations) Chuck Boone. They do a great job of strategic planning for the conference.”
There is only so much UMaine can control. Other CAA schools, including George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth, could add football. That would further polarize the league in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Or, James Madison, Old Dominion and Georgia State might follow in UMass’ footsteps and move up.
“Projecting past 2013, there’s a range of possibilities for what could happen,” Abbott said. “What’s different now is, everybody’s talking about it. It’s a front-and-center issue.”
By Pete Warner, The Bangor Daily News