Amidst the ever-changing landscape of college football and with the trend of conference shuffling trickling down to even the FCS level of late, Big South Conference commissioner Kyle Kallander had consistently stated over the years that the league was actively looking to add to its membership.
He had always declined to specify how soon such an addition might come, but the answer was delivered Thursday as the Big South announced that Monmouth University would join the conference as an associate football-only member starting in the 2014 season.
Monmouth – which is located in West Long Branch, N.J. – and the league agreed to a four-year associate membership, which will boost the conference back to seven football-playing members. Stony Brook, based in New York., left the Big South following last season, and Liberty has announced its intentions to move up to the FBS level when such an opportunity arises. The league must have six members to maintain its automatic berth into the NCAA FCS playoffs.
“It’s part of the ongoing process that we have to continue to expand and improve our football program in the Big South Conference. Obviously, we feel good about the addition,” Kallander said via phone. “We don’t want to be at six [football members]. We wanted to be over that certainly, and if we can grow beyond the seven we want to do that as well. We continue to explore options for doing that in the future.”
Coastal Carolina has also looked into whether a change in conference affiliation would be in its best interests, though no other opportunities have yet come the Chanticleers’ way.
“Obviously with the loss of Stony Brook, we needed to secure another football-playing member in the Big South Conference because we want to make sure we never lose that automatic-qualifying bid to the NCAA FCS playoffs. That's very important,” CCU athletic director Hunter Yurachek said. “Monmouth fills a void that was created when Stony Brook left. Ironically, they sit on the coast of New Jersey and Stony Brook sits on the coast of New York so it's another airline flight and another destination for our students to go to. It's somewhat out of the footprint of the Big South market, but we're excited to welcome Monmouth to the Big South Conference as an associate member.”
Monmouth has competed at the FCS level as part of the Northeast Conference since 1996 and will upgrade to a full-scholarship program to meet the standards of the Big South. The NEC limits its members to 40 athletic scholarships, well below the FCS maximum of 63. The Hawks will play as an independent next season before formally joining the league, and Kallander noted that Stony Brook had also made the move from the NEC when it joined the Big South prior to the 2008 season.
As for the program’s history, Monmouth has had three 10-win seasons under Kevin Callahan – the only head coach in its history – but it’s finished with five wins or fewer in each of the last four seasons. The Hawks’ most notable football alumnus is Dallas Cowboys receiver Miles Austin.
“The direction that we are heading is extremely positive, and I am excited about competing with all of our new conference members,” Callahan said in a statement released through the Big South. “The Big South is a conference that sent two programs to the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs in 2012, and this is an important milestone for the Monmouth University football program.”
The university initially reached out to the Big South in the fall, Kallander said, as they were moving from the NEC to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which does not sponsor football. As for ultimately deciding to go forward with another team from the New York-New Jersey area, isolated from the rest of the conference schools, Kallander admitted that was a consideration that had to be factored into the discussion.
“Ideally you’d like institutions that are more directly in your footprint certainly, and that’s part of the consideration as we think about adding members for the conference,” he said. “But as we looked at the institution itself – which means both academics and the institution profile, do we feel good about them being associated with us, the size and the resources of the program and of the university itself and their commitment to FCS football – we felt like it really made a lot of sense for us.”
In terms of potential future growth, Kallander said he could see the Big South increasing to eight or nine football members eventually.
“We’ve never established a number that we want to be,” he said. “It’s all about who the institutions are, what they bring to the conference and are they the right fit for us or not.”
As for Coastal's own conference future, Yurachek reiterated there is nothing else in the works at this time.
“We are still a member of the Big South Conference, and I don't see that changing any time in the near future,” he said.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.