BALTIMORE — Representatives from 11 schools congregated at M&T Bank Stadium on Wednesday for the CAA’s football media day.
There’s no telling just yet how many programs will be represented at the same event next year.
Like many leagues, the CAA is in a time of change. Massachusetts, a member last season, moved up to the bowl subdivision (the former Division I-A). Georgia State and Old Dominion will make the same leap after brief stints as CAA football teams. Rhode Island is moving to the Northeast Conference.
It’s created an extra nuance in the realignment juggling act facing commissioner Tom Yeager, who insisted there is no specific timeline for adding schools to his conference after the defections of Georgia State (to the Sun Belt in 2013), Old Dominion (to Conference USA at the same time) and Virginia Commonwealth (a non-football school that bolted this year).
“CAA football is almost a league inside the league because there’s so many schools that don’t play football,” James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said.
But there are priorities for the football schools, namely to ensure there can still be at least eight conference games going forward. That requires nine teams.
Given the impending exits, only eight teams are part of the CAA’s football league next season at the moment. Maintaining just that group would create nonconference scheduling headaches.
“Five years ago, it would have been a walk in the park,” Towson coach Rob Ambrose said. “Everybody in the country wanted to play us. Now I have people begging out of contracts. I have I-A teams that don’t want to play us. It would be extremely difficult to get that extra game. We would either have to do something crazy like we’re doing this year and play a second I-A team or we’d probably have to travel to like South Dakota.”
If nine is the minimum number of teams needed — a generally agreed consensus at this point — the next question is what an ideal total is.
“I don’t think insofar as determining teams in the league, that we should be caught up in a set number or even a set geography,” William & Mary coach Jimmye Laycock said. “I think we should have the types of schools and types of football programs that are compatible with the ones that are in the league, however that works out.”
There is a push to get back to 12 schools, especially from the remaining northern fringes of the league. Maine took charter flights for five of its six regular-season road games at a cost of $80,000 for each trip.
Coach Jack Cosgrove said the Black Bears have embraced the investment but would welcome the return of a regional divisional setup.
“I’m a big fan of the 12, the six-and-six [per division],” Cosgrove said. “That’s an easier sell to the presidents because the geographic alignments. You see Northeastern and Hofstra [leave], I could throw a couple names of teams we could plug right into that. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying that, but plug them in there and go back to six-and-six.”
At the same time, there is wariness of adding schools that could again seek a new league in a few years.
“What you don’t like is to have teams come into the league and then use it as a steppingstone or move on,” Laycock said. “Maybe Georgia State and ODU, that wasn’t what they were thinking. Maybe it was. I don’t know. But I think we have to be sure we’re not just a holding ground for a year for people to move on.”
The trickle-down from the football flux accounts for the conference’s needs in other sports, though Yeager said the differing demands of the football-league and all-sports members create some flexibility in finding solutions.
Regardless of who is ultimately added, the league’s coaches are optimistic about the CAA’s long-term stability.
“While it may look to someone who hasn’t spent as much time on the East Coast ‘Oh, the CAA is losing teams,’ the core is still there, and the core is what’s made them great forever,” Ambrose said. “I’m sure we’ll pick up somebody and just go to solidify the league’s strength as it is now. I have zero concerns.”