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Monmouth moving to Big South Conference
Additional football scholarships. Games against FBS opponents. Some improvements at Kessler Field
All these developments appear more likely now with the announcement Wednesday of the 2014 move of the Monmouth University football program to the Big South Conference, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.
“I thank the Big South presidents and the commissioner for their confidence in Monmouth,” President Paul Gaffney II said. “New horizons, new challenges, bring energy and excitement. The Big South is an opportunity for the Hawks to step up.”
“I think membership in the Big South Conference represents another significant step for the Monmouth football program,” coach Kevin Callahan said. “It underlines the commitment to football this University has.’’
Monmouth, formerly of the limited scholarship Northeast Conference, will be joining the fully-funded FCS (Football Championship Subdivision, formerly 1-AA) Big South as an associate member in 2014.
Monmouth will host a press conference today at 1 p.m on the second floor of the Multipurpose Activity Center in the Eyas Lounge to formally announce the move to the public. The press conference will be streamed free on GoMUHawks.com and on BigSouthSports.com.
Monmouth will play as an independent this fall when it will be eligible for the FCS playoffs as an at-large selection. Like the NEC the Big South champion earns an automatic FCS bid.
Big South football members in 2013 are Coastal Carolina (Conway, S.C,) Liberty University (Lynchburg, Va.), Charleston Southern (Charleston, S.C,) Gardner-Webb (Boiling Springs, N.C.), Virginia Military Institute (Lexington, Va.), and Presbyterian College (Clinton, S.C.).
FCS schools are allowed up to 63 scholarship equivalencies while the NEC has a limit of 40 football scholarships through the 2013 season.
Gaffney said between athletic and merit aid Monmouth is aiming at least for 57 scholarship equivalencies which will make it an attractive foe for an FBS program.
That number allows Monmouth to be a “counter” for an FBS school, meaning defeating the Hawks counts for that school towards one of six victories required for bowl eligibility.
“A plan has been in place to increase the number of scholarships for football,” Callahan said. “We want to be in position to have enough equivalents to play an FBS opponent. That is something I think will be doable in the near future.”
Gaffney said Monmouth will “absolutely” meet the “counting” criteria very soon.
At Kessler Field, Gaffney said a $4-million project to improve the press box area will begin once Monmouth receives municipal approval.
Gaffney said some extra seating using temporary stands for certain games will be undertaken as it has in the past for specific games.
This coming season Monmouth was already slated to take on Cornell, Columbia, and Lehigh in non-conference games. It is now is expected to add a mix of Big South, NEC and other schools to fill out this fall’s 11-game slate.
“As within any conference I think there’s potential for great rivalries to develop,” Callahan said. “But it’s hard to say which programs they may be with at this time.”
In its history Monmouth has played one Big South member, dropping a pair of games to Coastal Carolina.
“If you look at where we were in our first season in 1993 to 20 years later accepting membership in a fully-funded conference shows how far this program has come,” Callahan said.
In 2012 the Big South sent two of its three tri-champions, Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina, to the FCS playoffs.
However Stony Brook left the league after last season to join the Colonial Athletic Association and the Seawolves departure reduced the league to six football members, the minimum allowed by the NCAA for automatic postseason eligibility.
The Big South was looking for another team, Monmouth was seeking an FCS league, leading to what seems to be a solid fit for both parties.
Monmouth had been a member of the Northeast Conference since 1985-86. It had also been an NEC charter member in football since 1996 until its recent men’s basketball driven decision to join the Metropolitan Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The MAAC, however, does not sponsor football and the NEC denied Monmouth’s request to remain as an associate gridiron member.
Monmouth is believed to have also eyed other FCS leagues, such as the Patriot League and the CAA, but nothing developed.
By Tony Graham, Asbury Press