CAA eyes all-sports expansion

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Colonial Athletic Association isn't finished with expansion just yet.

Rocked by summertime defections of two schools and NCAA sanctions for two others that threatened the league's short-term viability in basketball, the CAA on Wednesday introduced Albany and Stony Brook as members of CAA Football, a separate enterprise than its other sports.

"Expansion for all-sports stuff is still a work in progress," commissioner Tom Yeager told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Football was the first priority after Georgia State, Old Dominion and Rhode Island all announced plans to leave the league following this season, leaving just eight teams.

The CAA, which has established itself in recent years as the strongest league in Football Championship Subdivision ranks, wanted to be able to provide member schools with at least eight conference games, but Yeager added: "This isn't just filling out a roster to get an extra conference game. These are two programs that have distinguished themselves as champions."

Both schools will join the league after the coming academic year.

Stony Brook will compete for one last season in the Big South, where it has won three straight conference championships, and last year claimed the league's first automatic berth to the playoffs. Albany will complete its football affiliation with the Northeast Conference.

Yeager said both moves are football-only and that talk of replenishing the league's basketball membership was for another day. The departures of Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion this summer, as well as NCAA academic sanctions that make N.C.-Wilmington and Towson ineligible for postseason leave the CAA with only seven teams for its basketball tournament.

In getting two schools seemingly on the rise in athletics, the CAA accomplished its objectives of creating geographic football rivalries that will help to hold travel expenses down, and could revive what has been a sagging football landscape in the Northeast.

"This alignment with really solidify full-caliber scholarship football in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for a long time," Yeager said. He said the league has also asked Rhode Island, which cited costs in deciding to downgrade its program, to reconsider and stick with the CAA. Officials at the school are considering it, Yeager said.

For Stony Brook and Albany, it's a big step up in competition.

"It's part of what's been a great trajectory for our athletic program," Stony Brook president Samuel L. Stanley Jr., said.

Football at Stony Brook is "the tail that wags to conference affiliation dog," athletic director Jim Fiore said, and the Seawolves' success has helped with other programs at the school. Not long ago, it had no marching band, and now boasts a band that is 200 members strong.

The Stony Brook baseball team also made a huge splash this season, winning the Coral Gables Regional and Baton Rouge Super Regional to earn a spot in the College World Series. The Seawolves became the first Northeast-based team to make it to Omaha since 1986.

The Seawolves only started scholarship football in 2006 under coach Chuck Priore, who said new rivalries with Albany and other northern league members and the higher profile of the CAA at the FCS level "will open up another type of athlete to us" in the recruiting process.

Albany expects the same, and coach Bob Ford thinks the transition might take some time, even though construction on a new football stadium is under way and should be ready in 2013.

The Great Danes have made a habit of scheduling past national champions such as Montana, Georgia Southern, CAA member Delaware and former CAA member Massachusetts in the past.

"It's one thing to play those schools once a year. It's an entirely different thing to play Villanova, James Madison and Delaware three weeks in a row," Ford said. "It will probably take us a period of time to catch up with the recruits that we need to compete at that level on a weekly basis."