Sports

Football Team Joins Big South Conference

Big-SouthThe University has accepted an invitation to become an associate member of the Big South Confer­ence for football beginning in the 2014 season.

“We like the opportunities of the Big South and the challenges that come from this new football confer­ence and these new friends,” Presi­dent Paul G. Gaffney II said.

The Hawks left the Northeast Conference (NEC) in December 2012 to move to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). The MAAC, however, does not sponsor football.

“Our first inclination was to apply for associate membership [with the NEC], which we did,” head football coach Kevin Callahan said. “But we knew that, going through the pro­cess, that they may not welcome us in as an associate member.”

Twenty-one days after being de­nied associate membership for foot­ball in the NEC, MU announced that they will be joining the Big South Conference.

The University contacted the Big South about a potential partnership last fall. The conference decided to do some research to find out about the University.

“As we looked, and as we studied, and as we evaluated, we just became more and more impressed with the University, and with the leadership,” Big South Conference Commission­er Kyle Kallander said. “Then we came up here last week on our visit, and became very impressed with the commitment to FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) foot­ball. So it was a very easy decision for our presidents.”

Callahan sees the Big South as a major upgrade from the NEC. “It’s an opportunity for us to continue to grow our program in terms of schol­arship levels and facilities,” he said. “That’s what really attracted me to it. I think this move is such a great one.” Big South schools can have up to 63 scholarships, while the NEC maxes out at 40, according to Callahan.

As a member of the Big South, the Hawks will need to increase their scholarships to 57 by 2014. Last sea­son, their scholarship count was in the low thirties. In the fall, they will be at 40.

As for 2013, MU will be an inde­pendent football team, playing with­out a conference. To qualify for the FCS playoffs, the Hawks would need to earn at at-large bid. This means that they cannot earn an automatic trip to the post-season, they would need to play well enough to be invited.

“The pro is that you can play any­body you want,” Callahan said of be­ing independent. “The con is putting together the schedule. Fortunately, we had a quality and high-powered non-conference schedule already in place, even when we were in the NEC.”

Callahan hinted at what we may see when the schedule is announced sometime this week. Robert Morris and Duquesne are both coming to Kessler Field, while Lehigh and Cor­nell will be on the schedule as well. “It’s going to be an exciting sched­ule,” Callahan said. “It may be the most formidable that we have ever played.”

MU can also use this move as a recruiting tool. “It is an opportunity for the University to head south,” Athletic Director Dr. Marilyn McNeil said. “I think we’ve done a great job of infiltrating the northeast, but this is a chance for Monmouth’s name to get out in the south and to have a little bit of a different profile.”

The Big South is also glad to get their name out in the New York mar­ket again. “That is absolutely one of the positives for bringing Monmouth University into the Big South Confer­ence…” Kallander said. “Of course Stony Brook was a member of the Big South for a while and we’ve kind of dipped our toe into it [New York Mar­ket] already. We are certainly looking forward to expanding our presence in this market.”

The Big South Conference football played its eleventh season in 2012. “It is a conference that is deeply commit­ted to playing football at the highest possible level in the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision),” Calla­han said.

The other schools in the conference are Charleston Southern University, Coastal Carolina University, Gardner- Webb University, Liberty University, Presbyterian College and Virginia Military Institute.

“The Big South is rather new in football…” Gaffney said. “But they’ve been moving very fast in the FCS ranks and winning games in FCS playoff.” Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina made the FCS play­offs in 2012. They both won their first round games and lost in the second.

“We like that challenge,” Gaffney added. “We like that forward look, that velocity that we see in this con­ference.”

The Hawks have played only Coastal Carolina from their new con­ference. A home-and-home series in 2008-09 resulted in 26-7 and 24-17 wins for the Chanticleers.

PHOTO TAKEN by Ed Morlock