Rookie Old Dominion strutted into Colonial Athletic Association football last season and promptly earned a national playoff bid in the Championship Subdivision's most rugged conference. Wednesday the CAA formally introduced two new members capable of equally stunning entrances.
Stony Brook and Albany not only made the 2011 playoffs but also collided in the first round, Stony Brook prevailing against its state rival 31-28. Once colleagues in the Northeast Conference, they'll reunite in the CAA come 2013.
"This isn't just filling out a roster to get an extra conference game," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said during a media teleconference. "These are two programs that have distinguished themselves as champions."
Rocked by the defections of ODU, Georgia State, Massachusetts and Rhode Island, and the demise of programs at Hofstra and Northeastern, Yeager and CAA football were like cross-country truckers at 3 a.m.: They needed a jolt.The commissioner delivered. He targeted the Seawolves and Great Danes — they will be football-only members — for their pedigree and geography, and sold them on leaving their respective football homes: the Big South for Stony Brook and Northeast Conference for Albany.
This he did transparently, keeping his Big South and NEC colleagues, Kyle Kallander and Noreen Morris, apprised.
Also, with these two New York teams fortifying a Northeast precinct that includes Maine, New Hampshire, Villanova and Delaware, Yeager has invited Rhode Island to reconsider its move to the NEC and remain part of the CAA.
"This alignment will really solidify (Championship Subdivision) football in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for a long time," Yeager said.
With a Southern flank that includes William and Mary, Richmond, James Madison and Towson, CAA football will, depending on Rhode Island, have 10 or 11 teams for 2013 and beyond. Those programs will play an eight-game conference schedule that will test Stony Brook and Albany like never before.
"We believe that the CAA is the best FCS conference," said Stony Brook president Samuel Stanley Jr. "I think all the evidence points to that."
The evidence includes a record five playoff teams three times in the last five seasons, and national championships for Massachusetts, Delaware, James Madison, Richmond and Villanova. Dating to when it was called the Yankee Conference, the CAA has produced multiple playoff teams each of the last 21 years.
Conversely, the Big South and Northeast Conference did not begin to receive automatic bids for their champions until 2010.
"The CAA clearly has the history, the tradition, the expectations to get multi bids," Stony Brook athletic director Jim Fiore said. "Once you get into the postseason, as we learned this past year — we got into the second round and lost late (34-27) to a really good Sam Houston State team. We could have/should have won that game.
"Once you get into postseason, anything can happen. Certainly we saw that in baseball. … We just need to get access to that tournament."
Seamheads will recall Stony Brook's improbable run to June's College World Series. The Seawolves also boast Lucy Van Dalen, the 2011 NCAA indoor mile champion who made New Zealand's Olympic team in the 1,500 meters.
"We want to compete for a national championship in football," Fiore said.
The nation's highest-scoring team last season at 38 points per game, Stony Brook might well contend this year. The Seawolves return running back Miguel Maysonet (1,633 yards rushing) and quarterback Kyle Essington (20 touchdown passes, four interceptions), and are No. 9 in Phil Steele's preseason poll.
Stony Brook coach Chuck Priore, a wishbone fullback at Albany, believes the CAA will attract even better players to his program.
"At the end of the day, (prospects) want to play against the best competition and have the best opportunity to be successful," he said. "I think that will allow us to be in some homes of some kids that probably in the past we weren't able to get into."
Stony Brook (four consecutive winning seasons) and Albany (six straight) are accustomed to CAA competition. Playing teams such as Hofstra, Maine, UMass, Delaware and Richmond, the Seawolves are 1-7 against the conference in the last five years, the Great Danes 3-6.
"But it's one thing to play those schools (occasionally)," said Albany coach Bob Ford, entering his 40th season. "It's an entirely different thing to play Villanova, James Madison and Delaware three weeks in a row.
"I would think that will have a little bit of residual effect upon our kids as we start getting into that level of competition. And it will probably take us a period of time to catch up with the recruits that we need to compete on that level on a weekly basis."
Yeager did not rule out further football additions, but with the recent losses of basketball powers ODU (to Conference USA) and VCU (to the Atlantic 10), not to mention George Mason's flirtation with the A-10, his attention likely turns to the roundball.
College of Charleston and Davidson anyone?
"Basketball," Yeager said, "is another day."
That day is coming soon.