Playing in the NCAA tournament is the dream of every athlete competing under the organization’s jurisdiction.
A decision announced Monday will — eventually — bring that goal within reach of the football players at Husson University in Bangor and seven other Northeast schools.
Husson announced Monday it has joined the newly formed Eastern Collegiate Football Conference and will begin play with those teams in the fall.
“This really is a culminating step,” said Husson athletics director Cindy Connelley. “Every student-athlete at Husson University can now compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament.”
The North Atlantic Conference, which last September had announced plans to begin sponsoring football in 2009, on Monday revealed it has abandoned that idea to help facilitate the formation of the ECFC.
The new conference, as would have been the case with NAC football, offers conference members Husson and Castleton State and six other programs that were to play in the NAC some important benefits.
“It’s exciting to have an eight-team league, seven league games,” said Husson coach Gabby Price. “You have common opponents, rivalries and the chance to play for a conference championship.”
Teams under the proposed NAC alignment — the same teams that will compete in the ECFC — would not have been eligible for NCAA postseason play. They would have needed at least four “core” teams, those which compete in more than one sport within the conference, to earn the automatic qualifier.
Only Husson and Castleton would have met those criteria.
“All involved parties came to the consensus that this move would have the greatest positive impact on the student-athletes participating in football,” NAC Commissioner Julie Muller said in a press release. “The NAC does not expect any negative impact from this decision and is pleased for the enhanced opportunities for Castle-ton and Husson and the other schools who will be competing in the ECFC.”
Under NCAA Division III rules, the champion of the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference will earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Championship after a minimum of seven conference teams have completed two full seasons in the league.
“Forming this single-sport conference, with the [NCAA] Management Council’s approval, gave us a better opportunity over a period of time to get the AQ [automatic qualifier],” said Husson associate athletic director Warren Caruso.
The other members of the ECFC are Anna Maria College of Paxton, Mass., Becker College of Leicester, Mass., Gallaudet University of Washington, D.C., SUNY Maritime College of Throggs Neck, N.Y., Mount Ida College of Newton Center, Mass., and Norwich (Vt.) University.
Husson football, which has competed as a Division III independent since its inception, last season went 7-3 and played in the ECAC Division III Northeast Bowl against St. John Fisher, losing 17-7.
Connelley said it was Muller who learned about the potential benefits of starting up a separate football conference rather than bringing the sport under the NAC umbrella.
“The commissioner brought it to the table to see if it was viable and the more work that was done, it created a wave of interest and opportunity,” Connelley said.
The NAC will continue to sponsor championships in 12 sports and will participate with the North Eastern Athletic Conference in baseball and women’s tennis beginning in the fall of 2010.