BY JACOB TROXELL
The 2014 season will be Salisbury University’s football team’s last in the Empire 8 conference, as they head to the New Jersey Athletic Conference in 2015.“The move to the New Jersey Athletic Conference brings an exciting new era in Salisbury University football,” said Salisbury Director of Athletics and Recreation Michael Vienna. “We are looking forward to a great relationship with this outstanding organization.”
Four other members of the Capital Athletic Conference, including Frostburg State, Christopher Newport University and Wesley College will make the move to the NJAC as well, joining Rowan University, Montclair State University, The College of New Jersey, Kean University, and William Patterson University. For SU, the move will only involve the football team, as the other 20 SU varsity teams will remain in the CAC.
“We are excited about joining the New Jersey Athletic Conference,” said SU head football coach, Sherman Wood. “The addition of the CAC schools merging with 5 traditionally strong New Jersey (schools) makes up arguably the toughest conference in the nation.”
Together, the 10 football programs that will be in the NJAC have combined for 72 conference championships and 61 NCAA appearances in in their collective histories. As the SU football team gets into their non-traditional spring season which consists of fine tuning drills, schemes and evaluating talent, Wood says the team is focused on heading into the NJAC fresh off of another Empire 8 championship. The Sea Gulls have won the Empire 8 conference twice since they joined in 2011.
“Spring ball allows us to come together as a team and get reps in so we can come into fall camp into August prepared,” said freshman offensive lineman Graham Hensley. “Being the last season in the Empire 8, we definitely want to win the conference outright and get back to the NCAA playoffs. The NJAC will be one of the strongest conferences in the nation and we want to win that (2015) conference title.”
Joining the NJAC will allow Salisbury to keep its annual “Route 13 Rivalry” and Regents Cup rivalry games with Wesley and Frostburg State. SU has played against rival Wesley in each of the last 21 seasons, and has played Christopher Newport in each year since the CNU football team’s inaugural 2001 season.
Wood said another one of the factors that affected the programs decision to join the NJAC was the amount of travel involved with staying in the Empire 8.
SUNY Courtland State and Morrisville State College will become members of the Empire 8 Conference in 2015, and if Salisbury were to stay in the Empire 8 Conference the team would face much more rigorous travel schedules. SU will not have to make 8-10 hour bus trips to upstate New York for away games after joining the NJAC.
“With the addition of Cortland, Morrisville and possibly another New York school joining the Empire 8 by 2016, it was time to consider another conference. Traveling to those places would have been academically and physically unfair to our students,” Wood said. “When the NJAC reached out to Salisbury, we thought it was in our student’s best interest to join.”