A new conference shuffle coming

The cards have been shuffled and dealt, and conferences will be looking for a new winning hand.
D3sports.com photo illustration

By D3sports.com staff

A decade ago, a Mid-Atlantic Shuffle created the Landmark Conference and set off a string of dominoes that eventually remade the Capital Athletic Conference, Colonial States Athletic Conference (then the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference), both MAC Commonwealth and Freedom, the North Eastern Athletic Conference and the Skyline Conference.

Now, multiple sources tell D3sports.com, some speaking on the condition of anonymity since an official announcement has not been made, eight schools are in the process of leaving their conferences to form a new one starting in 2018-19. The eight schools in the discussion are Cabrini, Gwynedd Mercy, Immaculata, Neumann and Marywood from the Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC), Marymount and Wesley from the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) and Arcadia from the MAC Commonwealth.

Other conference changes

Here's some of the other recently announced changes in conference alignment:

The move would reshape the Mid-Atlantic and Atlantic regions across a range sports, take one of the founding member from the CAC and remove the strongest programs from the CSAC. The new conference would be eligible for automatic bids to the NCAA playoffs beginning in 2020-2021, assuming they begin conference play in 2018-19.

Wesley’s football membership in the New Jersey Athletic Conference would not be a factor.

Sources indicate the process has progressed far enough that an announcement could come as soon as the end of this month, before the CAC has its annual conference meetings.

“Several of our institutions are considering other conferences primarily for fit reasons - the size and type of institutions, resources spent per athlete, and travel considerations,” said Capital Athletic Conference assistant commissioner Tim Mowrer. “At this point, no official actions have been taken and we continue to have a collegial and cooperative working relationship among the 10 schools in the conference.”

The Middle Atlantic Conference and Colonial States Athletic Conference were contacted but did not comment on the record in time for this edition of the story. However, D3sports.com staff spoke with multiple people across the affected conferences in the weeks leading up to this story's publication.

The move would have the biggest impact on the CSAC.

How they finished

Here's how each of the eight schools finished this past season in fall sports in their respective conferences.

Arcadia (MAC/MACC) 11th 11th 3rd 5th 2nd 6th
Cabrini (CSAC) 4th 10th 2nd 3rd 2nd 1st
Gwynedd Mercy (CSAC) 3rd 9th 1st 6th 5th 8th
Immaculata (CSAC) 9th 4th 6th 2nd 4th 6th
Marymount (CAC) --- 5th --- 8th 8th 3rd
Marywood (CSAC) 2nd 1st 3rd 7th 1st 4th
Neumann (CSAC) 7th 11th 5th 5th 6th 3rd
Wesley (CAC) 8th 6th 6th 9th 10th 10th

The CSAC hands out the President’s Cup trophy to the program with the highest competitive rating across all sports. Cabrini has won 11 of the last 16 trophies with Gwynedd Mercy winning two and Marywood one of the remaining five. The other two trophy winners, Misericordia and Eastern, left the conference in 2008 to join the MAC Freedom. Setting the potential departing schools aside, no current member of the conference has won the overall trophy or the trophies for men’s or women’s sports since its inception in 1994-1995.

The impact on the CSAC’s ability to retain automatic qualifying bids to the NCAA playoffs would vary widely by sport. For example, the CSAC would still have enough teams to retain its AQ for women’s basketball. It would be two short of the seven-team minimum for men’s basketball and three short of the seven-team minimum for field hockey, pending any additions.

The CAC would lose Marymount and Wesley, dropping its membership to eight in many team sports. Marymount is one of the four remaining charter members of the CAC, along with Mary Washington, St. Mary’s (Md.) and York (Pa.). The other two charter members, Catholic and Gallaudet, left the conference in 2007 and 2010 respectively.

Winter sports

Wesley also has indoor track, and finished third in men's, second in women's in the CAC.

Arcadia (MAC/MACC) 8th 7th 3rd 3rd
Cabrini (CSAC) 2nd 5th N/A N/A
Gwynedd Mercy (CSAC) 3rd 3rd N/A N/A
Immaculata (CSAC) 5th 6th N/A N/A
Marymount (CAC) 4th 3rd 3rd 3rd
Marywood (CSAC) 7th 1st N/A N/A
Neumann (CSAC) 1st 2nd N/A N/A
Wesley (CAC) 5th 9th --- ---

Wesley is a relatively new conference member after moving from the CSAC (then known as the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference) to the CAC in 2007.

Arcadia also left the CSAC for the MAC Freedom in 2007 and then moved to the MAC Commonwealth a year later. The MAC Commonwealth would still have eight teams in most sports after Arcadia’s departure, and even more in sports such as cross country where the Commonwealth and Freedom conferences compete as one.

In the previous shuffle, Catholic, Drew, Goucher, Juniata, Merchant Marine, Moravian, Stevens and Susquehanna left the MAC Commonwealth, Capital Athletic Conference, Skyline Conference and MAC Freedom to create the Landmark Conference. (Stevens later dropped out of the Landmark and was replaced by Scranton.)

This set a long shuffle of programs into motion. Hood, Villa Julie (now Stevenson) and Wesley moved into the CAC. Arcadia and Manhattanville moved to the MAC Freedom. The Skyline Conference added Purchase to help fill the hole left by Merchant Marine, Stevens and Manhattanville. Notre Dame and Centenary moved into the PAC/CSAC to fill the space left by Arcadia and Wesley … and the shuffle continued as more PAC/CSAC teams moved into the MAC and schools moved into the PAC/CSAC. Schools joined Division III and moved into the NEAC.

The new conference could set off yet another shuffle. The CSAC would need, really, a minimum of four schools to retain some of its key automatic bids.

Spring sports

The CAC and CSAC do not sponsor women's golf.

Arcadia 2nd 7th 5th 7th --- --- 4th 4th 5th
Cabrini 7th 1st 1st 1st --- --- 4th 1st 4th
Gwynedd Mercy 4th --- 3rd 7th 4th 4th 6th 5th 1st
Immaculata 2nd 4th 5th 4th 7th 6th 3rd 2nd 3rd
Marymount 4th 5th 7th 7th --- --- --- --- ---
Marywood 5th 3rd 2nd 2nd 2nd 2nd 1st 6th 2nd
Neumann 3rd 5th 5th 3rd 6th 7th 2nd 3rd 7th
Wesley 4th 6th 9th 8th 3rd 2nd 6th --- ---

Let’s use history to suggest where those schools could come from. The last time around, the PAC got schools such as Clarks Summit (then Baptist Bible), Cairn (then Philadelphia Bible) and Keystone from the NEAC. The current NEAC has 14 schools, some of which sit within the CSAC footprint: St. Elizabeth, Penn State-Abington, Penn State-Berks and maybe even Lancaster Bible. If the NEAC felt the need to replace these schools, Alfred State and SUNY Canton could be available.

Now, let’s consider the Capital Athletic Conference. Since the last Shuffle, the CAC expanded from eight to 10 schools. Removing Marymount and Wesley leaves the following members in the CAC: private schools Southern Virginia and York (Pa.) and public schools Christopher Newport, Frostburg State, Mary Washington, Penn State-Harrisburg, Salisbury and St. Mary's (Md.). Meanwhile, the CAC would fall short of the automatic bid standard in field hockey.

However, Southern Virginia has made overtures to the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, which would be a better fit geographically, and would fill a need the ODAC has for an eighth football program. And there has long been a delicate balance in the CAC between public and private institutions. If Southern Virginia leaves, which could happen soon after this new league's official announcement, York would be the only private institution left in the CAC.

And the shuffle could easily continue from there.

Contributing: Gordon Mann, Dave McHugh, Pat Coleman, D3sports.com