Updated: Oct 7, 2020
The two lonely Northeastern Outliers must take matters into their own hands to survive in the FBS.
With UConn effectively kicked out of the American Conference and UMass having exited the MAC several years ago, both teams now find themselves in the hell that is FBS independence. FBS independence isn't hell for everyone though, the flagship institutions representing Mormonism (BYU), Catholicism (Notre Dame), and Evangelicalism (Liberty) all have national bases that go beyond sports with Army having federal funding to be able to afford independence. Unfortunately neither UConn nor UMass are schools with built in fanbases like those above, rather they find themselves in the company of New Mexico State, a geographical outlier no conference wants. The American doesn't want them, the MAC won't take them, the once prominent UConn --> ACC pipe dream is long gone, and dropping back to the FCS level is unconscionable. So what now?
Enter the Colonial Athletic Association.
Why join a conference when you can effectively create your own? If UConn and UMass were savvy, they would find a way to petition the NCAA to allow their invitation of FCS schools up in order to form a new conference. Both teams have made their home in the FCS level CAA prior to their jump to FBS so a reunion would only make sense. Choosing the right schools however remains the challenge. Crafting a conference of regional schools that doesn't involve either school traveling halfway across the country every other week would be ideal. To which I present, the newest FBS conference:
#1 Massachusetts- Public Flagship, Location (Amherst, MA), Enrollment (31,000), Warren P. McGuirk Alumni Stadium Capacity (17,000), Average Attendance (9,491). UMass was a powerhouse in the FCS ranks, winning the 1998 National Championship and appearing in the game in 2006. However, UMass desperately needs help if they intend on surviving as an FBS school. In a little over a decade the Minuteman have not won more than 4 games in any season as a D1 program. In joining with UConn, Umass can hopefully salvage their FBS dreams.
#2 Connecticut- Public Flagship, Location (Storrs, CT), Enrollment (32,000), Pratt & Whitney Stadium Capacity (40,000), Average Attendance (18,216). Huskies football has been in a death spiral for nearly a decade now. Since their triumphant trip to the 2010 Fiesta Bowl, UConn has only made one bowl game, the 2015 St. Petersburg Bowl, losing to Marshall which dropped their record below .500. Like UMass, inviting up FCS schools to form a new conference is the ONLY way they can survive in D1.
#3 Buffalo- Public Research, Location (Buffalo, NY), Enrollment (32,000), University at Buffalo Stadium Capacity (25,000), Average Attendance (16,417). Extending an invitation to the Bulls only makes sense. They are a geographic outlier in the MAC in the same way UMass was, which also gives them a familiar opponent. They are a northeastern team and would provide natural rivalries against both Connecticut and Massachusetts. They also provide a team with legitimate success in recent years, having been to several MAC championships (winning in 2008, appearing in 2018) and several bowl games (winning in 2019, losing in 2008, 2013, & 2018) since 2015, something UConn and UMass can't claim.
#4 New Hampshire- Public Flagship, Location (Durham, NH), Enrollment (15,000), Wildcat Stadium Capacity (11,000), Average Attendance (10,105). Inviting New Hampshire brings NH its very first FBS team, though it does leave behind a stranded Maine program left to fend for itself. The Wildcats are a perennial contender in the FCS playoffs (semifinals in 2013 & 2014, most recently quarterfinals in 2017) and would make an excellent geographic addition to the reborn CAA. Upgrades to the stadium and efforts at boosting attendance would have to be made but this is a program that is fully capable of making the leap.
#5 Army- US Service Academy, Location (West Point, NY), Enrollment (4,294), Michie Stadium Capacity (38,000), Average Attendance (30,989). Army joins fellow service academies, Navy and Air Force, in finally joining a conference. Their last stint in C-USA didn't go very well but with Army's recent success they seem to be in a good position moving forward. Allowing for more regional travel would greatly reduce costs to the program and allow for an Army-Buffalo instate rivalry to develop. It also brings an element of prestige to a conference by having a service academy as a member. Whether West Point would forgo independence for membership is an unknown.
#6 Delaware- Private-Public Research, Location (Newark, DE), Enrollment (24,000), Delaware Stadium Capacity (22,000), Average Attendance (14,275). Delaware has long been rumored to be a candidate for promotion to the FBS but has never pulled the trigger. Clearly wanting a better fit than the MAC, C-USA, or Sun Belt, an upgraded CAA would offer the ideal situation for Delaware. Their track record of success (having won the 2003 National Championship and appearing in it in 2007 & 2010) would make them competitive almost immediately. This one makes perfect sense.
#7 Villanova- Private Catholic, Location (Radnor Township, PA), Enrollment (11,000), Villanova Stadium Capacity (12,500), Average Attendance (6,003). Obviously the attendance is not where it needs to be for FBS, last place Ball State averaged a little over 9 thousand over a 5 year period. That shouldn't be the goal but its the benchmark. Nova was speculated to make the jump to the Big East before it disbanded and would still make a great addition to the FBS. The school is quite successful in the FCS having won the 2009 National Championship.
#8 Marshall- Public Research, Location (Huntington, WV), Enrollment (13,000), Joan C. Edwards Stadium Capacity (38,000), Average Attendance (23,190). Marshall initially joined the MAC upon upgrading to FBS, after winning the 1992 & 1996 FCS National Championships, and proceeded to dominate the conference before bolting for C-USA. These days Marshall remains highly competitive but is forced to travel from WV to the tip of Florida, and all the way to El Paso depending on the year. A move to join a new eastern conference is a strategic one for Marshall and could allow them to once again dominate.
#9 Old Dominion- Public Research, Location (Norfolk, VA), Enrollment (25,000), S.B. Ballard Stadium Capacity (20,000), Average Attendance (18,234). ODU is located in a growing market in Virginia Beach and has access to the area's most fertile recruiting grounds. The potential for a dominant program is there, however, like Marshall, nobody wants to see ODU play FIU, UAB or UTEP every year. The Monarchs would fit nicely into an east coast based conference as they were once CAA members just like UConn and UMass. They have recently fallen on hard times but just in 2016 the Monarchs went 10-3 with a Bahamas Bowl victory in just their second season as an FBS member.
#10 William & Mary- Public Research, Location (Williamsburg, VA), Enrollment (9,000), Zable Stadium Capacity (13,000), Average Attendance (8,622). This may come as a surprise but W&M routinely averages in the FCS' top 25 attendance rates. Located just across the water from Old Dominion, the Tribe would be a good geographic partner for the fellow VA schools joining them in the new CAA. The Tribe have not been that great in football lately, last making the playoffs in a second round loss in 2015, but did make the semifinals in 2009 and 2004.
#11 Richmond- Private Liberal Arts, Location (Richmond, VA), Enrollment (4,000), E. Claiborne Robins Stadium Capacity (8,000), Average Attendance (7,534). Richmond is definitely the most questionable member of this new conference. Can the Spiders survive the rigors of playing FBS football at such a small school? Army, Navy and AF do it but they're publicly funded. Wake Forest is the smallest non-academy D1 school and they have twice the enrollment UofR does, but if W&M moves up, Richmond moves up. The Spiders are no strangers to success having won the 2008 National Championship and appeared in the semifinals in 2015 and 2007.
#12 James Madison- Public Research, Location (Harrisonburg, VA), Enrollment (23,000), Bridgeforth Stadium Capacity (25,000), Average Attendance (18,108). JMU is READY, they have BEEN ready. James Madison is so desirable in fact that they have numerous times turned down invites from the Sun Belt. With a conference sharing the same geographic footprint as their current one, there's no way the Dukes turn down the new CAA. JMU is coming off of National Championships in 2016 and 2004 with two further appearances in 2017 and 2019. James Madison is the prize of the FCS not named North Dakota State and the Huskies/Minuteman have a great chance of scoring them as conference mates.
#13 Elon- Private, Location (Elon, NC), Enrollment (7,000), Rhodes Stadium Capacity (13,000), Average Attendance (7,242). Elon is a growing school in a football hungry state. The Phoenix have only been FCS members since 1999, and bounced around between conferences before joining the CAA in 2014. Having only made the playoffs once prior in 2009, the Phoenix have been quite successful since then with 2 trips in 2017 and 2018. Elon is easily the least ready school to make the leap to FBS and will likely be the whipping post of the new CAA for some time, but hey at least UMass and UConn won't go winless.
#14 North Carolina A&T- Public HBCU, Location (Greensboro, NC), Enrollment (13,000), BB&T Stadium Capacity (21,500), Average Attendance (16,927). NC A&T recently made waves by following fellow HBCU Hampton out of the MEAC and into the Big South, a shocking move to the HBCU community. The Aggies are believed to also hold FBS aspirations and, given their recent successes, should not be doubted. A&T would become the first FBS Historically Black College and would immediately become a magnet for some of the nation's top talent. UMass/UConn would be wise to add the Aggies to their conference roster as their stock continues to soar.
Several CAA schools unfortunately get left behind including Maine, Albany, Rhode Island, Stony Brook, and Towson but these schools may decide to join with other regional schools like Monmouth, Robert Morris and VMI to create a new conference in the CAA's absence.
With their new conference creation, the two New England schools will no longer have to live in Independence Limbo. A geographically contiguous conference will work wonders on recruiting, win totals, and fan attendance, all things UMass & UConn struggle with mightily. Having a bus league is a rarity these days. The move is a bold, daring one, but the Huskies and Minuteman are out of options. Having taken the year off due to COVID, the time to act is now, not later when their programs totally go belly up. You have been warned UMass & UConn, dust off your Rolodex and call up your old CAA buddies.