The conference carousel refuses to stop spinning across college football.
Monmouth has been taken for a ride it didn't want. The private university along the Jersey Shore learned on Thursday that the Northeast Conference has denied its application to be an associate member in football going forward.
The next stop for Monmouth? Perhaps the Big South Conference.
Monmouth basically brought on its problem and kind of surmised the NEC's decision in the last month. The Hawks had been an NEC football member since 1996, but their administration announced in mid-December a move to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Association beginning with the 2013-14 academic year.
It's a clear upgrade in basketball and other sports for Monmouth, but the problem for the football team is that the MAAC doesn't sponsor football. Monmouth reapplied with the NEC to remain as an associate member in football, field hockey and bowling, but the NEC only accepted the field hockey team, presumably to keep enough members for an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament.
Monmouth, which won an outright NEC title in 2006 and shared four other crowns after joining the conference behind coach Kevin Callahan, will have its ties with the NEC severed in June, but free agency is here. The Hawks, 5-5 this past season, may have to spend at least the 2013 season as an FCS independent, and they surely have to fill some holes left in their schedule.
"When Monmouth University decided to accept an invitation to join the MAAC, they did so with full knowledge that the MAAC did not sponsor the sports of football, field hockey and bowling," NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said in a statement.
"Monmouth subsequently submitted an application to be an associate member in the NEC in each of those three sports. The NEC Council of Presidents evaluated the associate membership requests separately, and in doing so made their decisions relative to the long term stability and interests of the conference. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Monmouth in the sport of field hockey, and wish Monmouth success in the sports of football and bowling as they seek new partnerships in those sports."
Monmouth, having already started to look elsewhere in football, released a statement that read: "Recently the Northeast Conference Council of Presidents voted on and made the decision to decline Monmouth University's application to join the NEC Football league as an associate member. We are disappointed in this decision in light of the fact that Monmouth has always been an exemplary member of the conference, both on and off the field, particularly in the area of securing an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I playoffs. On the other hand, we knew this was a possible outcome so we have been actively pursuing a new home for MU football and we anticipate a positive outcome in the near future."
The conference options for Monmouth football are few. Monmouth was an outside candidate for CAA Football when it sought new membership last year, but the leap was just a bit much and the conference went the way of Albany from the NEC and Stony Brook from the Big South.
The Patriot League also is pursuing expansion, and Monmouth will chase any possibility there. But Monmouth may not be a strong enough fit academically, and Patriot League football is just moving to the scholarship level this year.
So the answer could come from the Big South. Stony Brook may not have been a great fit geographically, but it brought a Northeast footprint to the conference, not to mention great football. The Seawolves won at least a share of the title in its final four seasons in the conference, and won FCS playoff games - the first in Big South history - in each of the past two seasons.
Monmouth was not at the NEC limit of 40 scholarships this past season, but it's a capable program, having defeated CAA teams (Villanova, then Rhode Island) in the last two seasons. With an upgrade in its football facilities - which appears likely considering what the Hawks have gotten out of their multi-purpose recreational center which opened in 2009 - they make for a strong fit for the Big South.
Despite the loss of Stony Brook, the Big South will still have an automatic playoff bid. But now that it has fallen to six schools, and scheduling has gotten tougher, the Big South needs to expand again.