If CAA collapses, Scarano needs to be prepared
Move to Patriot League may be an option
Published: Friday, April 22, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
As University of Massachusetts Chancellor Robert C. Holub announced that the Minutemen football program was bolting to play in the bigger and better Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, he talked of the uncertainties facing the Colonial Athletics Association.
And believe him, there are a number of challenges facing the conference's football division – challenges that could leave UNH on the outside looking in the case of conference realignment.
Make no mistake, the CAA has been good to Wildcat football. And UNH has done its part as well, qualifying for the national tournament in seven straight years, posting a win in six of them.
But thanks to the departure of the conference from Northeast schools Northeastern, Rhode Island, UMass and possibly Villanova, which essentially has a foot out the door already, the only schools with commitments to the conference from the Northeast are UNH and rival Maine.
While the conference, known as the best football conference in the FCS, keeps retooling, they're stockpiling teams from the south (most recently Georgia State and Old Dominion) – a sign of where their interests lie.
Scarano has said that he'll "advocate looking for potential members in the Northeast," but without more teams in the region, it's clear that UNH relies on the CAA a heck of a lot more than the conference needs UNH.
And beyond that, we're skeptical as to what potential Northeast members Scarano will be able to find. Vermont, Boston University, and Northeastern have cut their programs. Others have left for smaller conferences.
While we understand that remaining in the CAA is what's best for UNH, we're unsure of how long the CAA can sustain with Northeast schools dropping like flies.
The time is now for Scarano and Co. to be proactive. That's what UMass did. And that's what UNH needs to do to set itself up for long-term success.
With the uncertainty surrounding the CAA's future and UNH's role in that future, athletic administrators need to have all lines of communication open. There aren't, after all, many options.
A move to the FBS (like UMass) can be ruled out. UNH lacks dozens of aspects required of an FBS school both financially, and with the fan base. The university can't currently afford to upgrade the stadium to what would be required for a move to the FBS, let alone fill the 35,000 seats the FBS likes to see.
A move to a non-scholarship conference, like the Patriot League, while it sounds shocking at first, needs to be something considered by athletic administrators.
No doubt the talent level at UNH would drop without scholarships. But thanks to need-based financial aid packages that schools can offer athletes, the talent level doesn't drop too severely.
Last year, Patriot League champion Lehigh beat Northern Iowa in the FCS playoffs before losing to perennial powerhouse Delaware – the same team UNH lost to. The year before that, three Patriot League teams finished in the top 25.
The Patriot League would likely jump at the prospect of adding a team with the FCS prestige that UNH has.
Plus, the athletics department would save millions of dollars without these scholarships. The financial aid UNH would be allowed to give, under Patriot League rules, would come out of the university budget – not the athletics budget – freeing up the checkbook of a department that's currently in debt.
Without the cost of dozens of scholarships, the athletics department would be able to consider bringing back a Division I men's lacrosse team or even, after a few years of saving the money, a baseball team.
Currently, there are only two FCS schools in New England that offer football scholarships – UNH and Maine. That means that, because of the lack of competition, it wouldn't be hard to recruit local FCS talent despite only offering financial aid.
But more important than the added money is the security.
That's what the Patriot League offers. And what the CAA doesn't.
Make no mistake, the CAA is the best football conference in the FCS. If the CAA displays longevity and sustainablility, its likely the best place for UNH. But if there is a chance UNH could be left in the dust, which seems like a possibility, a move to a stable situation becomes necessary.
Think back to Kansas this summer. After Nebraska and Colorado were proactive when it appeared the Big 12 was going to crumble leading to four super conferences, Kansas, despite one of the greatest basketball programs of all time, was nearly left behind.
The two situations are different, no doubt. But they go to show that no matter how prestigious your team, it's possible to be left out.
Whether the CAA will crumble remains to be seen. But what can't wait is work from the athletics department on the issue.
By opening communication lines with other conferences, administrators will be preventing a major gridiron mishap. And if the Patriot League comes calling, Scarano needs to think long and hard about it. No matter how unpopular it sounds now.