Trinity athletics photo
As a football conference in the Division III model, the SCAC never made sense. The geographic footprint, from Colorado to Indiana to Alabama to Texas, created a demand on travel costs that small-college budgets usually find unnecessary.
Colorado College realized this and abruptly dropped football after the 2008 season. But they weren’t the only outlier. Rose-Hulman left after the 2006 season to join the HCAC, which is Indiana and Ohio-based. DePauw, finding a group of schools with similar academic cache in closer proximity, decided this year to join Indiana rival Wabash in the NCAC, beginning in 2012.
That left seven football members behind in the SCAC, enough to maintain its automatic bid to the 32-team playoff field. Schools from coast to coast – LaGrange, Cornell and Chapman – announced new conference affiliations this offseason. But nothing shakes up the national picture like seven schools withdrawing from a 12-school conference; of the seven football-playing members, five are forming a new conference that will require less travel but would need to add two football programs and then wait two years to get an automatic bid. Trinity and Austin retain the SCAC name and history but need five football-playing members — and two “core” members in all sports — to keep their AQ.
The SCAC has been very explicit in news stories and press releases that it intends to continue on, and potential new members have been contacted.
Who exactly might those be? What ripple effects can Division III expect?
With the remaining SCAC schools mostly Texas-based, this would seem to be a ripe opportunity for any school in the ASC that feels it either isn’t competitive or wants to align itself with Trinity and Austin (which left the ASC and took Rose-Hulman’s place in the SCAC) to make the leap. Texas Lutheran comes to mind, while Howard Payne and East Texas Baptist wouldn’t be total shocks.
It also means any NAIA school, particularly those in the Mid-South Conference and perhaps the KCAC, which eyes the NCAA’s financial stability has its opening. There are also four NAIA schools in Oklahoma, two independents in Florida and another independent, Southern Virginia, which has expressed interest in moving to Division III. Those schools might not all fit in the SCAC, but might come into play if teams begin shuffling their affiliations.
Centenary (La.) has moved from Division I to III, and joined the ASC, but doesn’t yet offer football.
Then of course, there’s the obvious: Huntingdon, one of the last football independents in D-III, has eagerly sought out a conference. The Hawks joined the SLIAC for one season, then the conference dropped football. The SCAC-7 (those schools that just broke off from the SCAC) appear to have not been interested in the Hawks, but the SCAC-5 might take them out of necessity. They’d be a core member.
That’s an example of the tough spot the SCAC is in. With 50 years of history and a reputation for academic prestige, the conference – whose commissioner of 16 years, Dwyane Hanberry, is staying on – would probably like to maintain how it is perceived. We might hear a lot of talk about being “excited for the future” or schools that “fit the SCAC profile,” but from an outsider’s view, it’s hard to see how the SCAC-5 isn’t desperate.
The SCAC-5, remember, has just two football schools. Colorado College recently dropped the sport, and Southwestern and U. of Dallas don’t seem to be on track to add it. Huntingdon would be a third. If the SCAC stole more than two from the nine-member ASC, then that conference’s automatic bid would be in jeopardy.
The odd thing is Division III had narrowed itself down to just three football independents, and only two with scheduling problems. Huntingdon is one. Wesley, which is a competitive fit for the NJAC but as a private school can’t afford to play by that conference’s rules, such as 100-player roster limits, might look to revive talks of football in its all-sports conference, the CAC. The third, Macalester, is independent by choice, having left the MIAC in the early part of the decade. The St. Paul-based school also has 14 potential opponents in Minnesota, plus dozens more nearby in Iowa and Illinois.
A former independent, LaGrange already made its move this offseason, to the USAC, where former football-only affiliate Maryville and non-football Piedmont joined this offseason, All three were members of the GSAC in other sports. Shenandoah announced plans to leave the USAC for the ODAC in all sports –- citing reduced travel as a reason – last fall.
The USAC moves leave few Division III schools in the south looking to move. A GSAC/SCAC-5 merger doesn’t make much sense for football because of the four women’s schools and the distance from Southwest Virginia to Colorado. Rust (Holly Springs, Miss.) is in no shape to add the sport.
The USAC might not have seen its last shuffle either. Averett, N.C. Wesleyan and Christopher Newport could join Wesley in the CAC, which currently doesn’t sponsor football. Salisbury and Frostburg State, which joined the Empire 8 as a football-only affiliates for access to an automatic bid and because Norwich had left the E8 one member short, could come back home and give the CAC six football playing members. Two sources have told D3sports.com that Neumann (Pa.) is considering adding football, which could be a potential seventh, as could Marymount (Va.) if it added the sport. Catholic, a former member of the CAC, competes in the ODAC for football and the non-football Landmark conference for other sports.
Another potential seventh member, Stevenson, which plays its first football game this season, recently left the CAC for the MAC.
So why all the movement?
First, access to automatic bids, especially in sports like football where at-large bids are scarce, is key. But schools prefer being in conferences for ease of scheduling, formation of natural rivalries, an enhanced athletic experience (i.e. all-conference awards, etc.) and association. Schools like being aligned with certain peers, because of the perceptions it creates.
The SCAC certainly did that. But perhaps the main reason Division III schools like their conferences are something the SCAC-5 still doesn’t care about: containing travel costs.
That would open the door for Westminster (Utah), an NAIA member whose name was mentioned in The Colorado Springs Gazette as a potential member. They’d be the third Westminster in D-III, joining the ones in Missouri (UMAC) and Pennsylanvia (PAC).
If Trinity and Austin can’t save the SCAC’s football automatic bid, they might be forced elsewhere to look for affliate membership. Or, they could dangle their bid and entice others – perhaps the four schools in the UAA (Case Western Reserve, Chicago, Carnegie Mellon and Wash U.) could join to create a who-cares-about-travel-costs football league. It certainly would be prestigious, but it would need a seventh member to keep the AQ.
The perfect seventh member, Rochester, figured something out long ago. Flying a football team across the country four or five times a season is cost-prohibitive. The Yellowjackets, a member of the UAA in other sports, are in the New York-based Liberty League for football.