The road to winning the New Jersey Athletic Conference football championship will soon get tougher as the NJAC announced Monday that it will add five schools as associate members beginning in the 2015-16 season.
Headlined by perennial power Wesley College, the NJAC will also add Christopher Newport University, Frostburg State University and Salisbury University to the conference. Southern Virginia University will become an affiliate member for the 2014 season, before being elevated to an associate member in 2015. The expansion is limited to football only.
“We are extremely excited about the future of our football conference with the addition of these tremendous programs,” said NJAC commissioner Terry Small in a press release. “Our Presidents and athletic administrators have always sought stability in terms of our football membership, and we now believe that we have assembled one of the strongest football conferences in all of NCAA Division III.
“By adding these quality programs and partnering with these outstanding institutions, we believe we have aligned many of the top Division III football programs in the region while helping to ease the burden of scheduling that all of the institutions have experienced throughout the years.”
All incoming schools are currently members of the Capital Athletic Conference and were admitted into the NJAC following a partnership between the two conferences. The agreement was also subject to a vote from the NJAC’s presidents council and board of athletic administrators.
The presidents of each respected conference led negotiations for the partnership, as TCNJ President Barbara Gitenstein represented the NJAC while Frostburg State President Jonathan Gibralter worked on behalf of the CAC.
“The NJAC is proud and honored to partner with the CAC to further enhance our strong football programs while respecting the academic priorities of our institutions,” Gitenstein said in the release. “Dr. Gibralter and all of the CAC institutions and presidents have been extraordinary professionals throughout this process. I am confident that the partnership developed with our scholar-athletes in mind will yield tremendous benefits for our institutions beyond the playing fields and goalposts.”
Of the additions, Wesley is the only school Rowan faced this past season and projects as the biggest addition to the NJAC. The Wolverines finished the 2013 season ranked as the No. 7 team in the country and have been selected to play in the past nine Division III tournaments. Despite the school’s membership in the CAC, the football team had operated as an independent since 2011.
The Profs also have history with Salisbury, which beat Rowan 19-7 in the first round of the 2012 NCAA tournament. Southern Virginia and Christopher Newport are both coming off successful seasons as each team won at least seven games in 2013. Frostburg State finished the year with a 1-9 record.
Under the new conference alignment, each team will play nine NJAC games per year, leaving one open spot for an out-of-conference opponent. Current NCAA Division III rules allow teams to play a maximum of 10 games in the regular season.
When the partnership officially commences in 2015, the NJAC will see its football membership increase to 10 schools. The current full-time institutions include Rowan, Kean, Montclair State, TCNJ and William Paterson.