The North Atlantic Conference has begun reversing a recent exodus from its membership, adding the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the State University of New York at Canton to its ranks as of July 1, 2018.

UMPI and SUNY Canton will begin competition as members of the NAC beginning with the 2018-2019 academic year, joining the University of Maine-Farmington, Husson University of Bangor, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, Maine Maritime Academy of Castine and Thomas College of Waterville.

“The addition of Canton and UMPI fulfills an ongoing strategic initiative by the NAC Presidents’ Council to expand conference membership and provide the highest-quality experience for our institutions, athletic programs and student-athletes,” said council chair and UMF president Dr. Kathryn A. Foster.

The additions of UMPI and SUNY Canton will give the NAC eight full-time members, one more than the seven required by the NCAA to qualify a conference for an automatic berth to its Division III national tournaments.

The NAC’s automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament in numerous sports had been jeopardized by the decisions of four current members — Castleton University and Green Mountain College of Vermont and New Hampshire entries New England College and Colby-Sawyer University — to accept other conference affiliations beginning with 2018-2019.

Those departures alone would have left the NAC with only six full-time member schools, though the conference would have had a two-year grace period to re-stock its ranks before losing its NCAA automatic bid.

“Certainly having a stable membership in particular as it relates to that automatic qualifier requirement is always going to be something that’s a priority for the conference,” said Husson University athletic director Frank Pergolizzi.

Monday’s announcement of the additions of UMaine-Presque Isle and SUNY Canton caps off the first phase of a reorganization of the conference’s membership that seeks to provide an appropriate balance of schools with similar missions and levels of competition.

“Throughout the application process, it was clear that these two institutions are committed to their athletic programs, student-athletes and athletics staffs,” said NAC commissioner Marcella Zalot. “I am excited to work with them as the NAC strategically charts our course of action for the future.

“These two institutions will make the NAC stronger.”

The University of Maine at Presque Isle has undergone four name changes but since 1971 has been known as the University of Maine at Presque Isle.

“The NAC is a well-run organization that aligns well with our athletic and academic values and philosophy at the University of Maine at Presque Isle,” said UMPI athletic director and men’s basketball coach Dan Kane. “We couldn’t be more excited for our student-athletes and coaches to be able to compete against the great teams of the NAC starting in the fall of 2018.”

UMPI sponsors 12 NCAA Division III sports, all of which align with current NAC-sponsored sports. The Owls will compete in the NAC in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s outdoor track and field and women’s volleyball.

“It will be our farthest trip in Maine but it’s still a reasonable trip; reasonable meaning our teams don’t have to stay in a hotel the night before,” Pergolizzi. “That’s good, and we’ve competed with UMPI in a number of sports over the years so we have a high level of familiarity with their programs and their teams and their coaches and certainly feel comfortable about continuing that relationship.”

SUNY Canton has experienced considerable growth in its athletic offerings during recent years, adding six sports since 2011 while more than doubling its number of student-athletes. The college was approved for full NCAA Division III membership status in 2015.

The Kangaroos will compete in the NAC in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s golf, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, and women’s volleyball.

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...