By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Other than in football, the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) marks the schedules each season for Salisbury University’s varsity sports. Salisbury has been an important member of the conference since 1993 when the Sea Gulls joined the then-seven team conference.
Since Salisbury joined the CAC, it was a consistent conference of eight teams until 2007. Over the last decade, additions and subtractions have come and gone, and the CAC may be going under another transformation within the next academic year. The conference is currently at 10 teams, but that will soon change come the next academic year.
Marymount University (Va.), one of the original charter members of the CAC, will be leaving the conference shortly. Joining the Saints in their exodus will be Wesley College, after the school recently joined the conference in 2007.
“Wesley and Marymount are leaving the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) at the end of the 2017-18 academic year. They will be joining a new conference, which is made up of primarily faith-based institutions. Both schools felt that it better fit with their mission and their values,” SU Athletics Director Dr. Gerry DiBartolo told The Flyer.
The new conference that is coming is rumored to be focused around the Baltimore and Philadelphia metro regions as schools from multiple current-conferences come together.
The topic of departing the conference first appeared at this past summer’s end of the year meetings at the end of May on the campus of St. Mary’s (Md.). Wesley and Marymount mentioned that it was a possibility that they would be moving elsewhere. For new CAC Commissioner Jeff Ligney, who started in his position this summer, it was a big surprise.
“It caught many of us, including myself, off-guard a little bit. We hadn’t really heard too much before that, that there was any really talk about schools leaving the conference,” Ligney said.
It was just a few months later in July that the two schools notified the conference of their decision to move to a new conference to-be-formed, citing that they thought the decision was best for their student-athletes.
According to Ligney, the two schools wanted to compete in a conference more aligned with their faith-based institutions. They were also concerned about the geographic blueprint of the CAC from their locations.
“It was just something that they thought would be best for their student-athletes. It was hard to argue against (their reasoning). We love having them as members,” Ligney said.
Another chapter in recent CAC realignment
With Marymount’s departure, only three charter members will be left in the CAC: University of Mary Washington, York College of Pennsylvania, and St. Mary’s. Since 2007, turbulence has hit the conference with Hood College, Stevenson University, Goucher College, Gallaudet University and the Catholic University of America all leaving.
“This is a movement seen all-across the country. Conference realignment is happening everywhere, and certainly this isn’t the first time the CAC has gone through this,” Ligney said.
Ligney points to colleges and universities consistently reevaluating the costs of their resources and what works best for their institutions.
Despite the previous realignment, the CAC found stability again since 2010 with the additions of Frostburg State in 2010 and then Christopher Newport University, Penn State University – Harrisburg and Southern Virginia in 2013. Now with the departure of two more schools, questions arise as to the future and stability of the CAC once again.
DiBartolo sees the conference post-2017/18 as promising. He notes that an eight-member conference is typical.
“That’s pretty average and pretty normal-sized for a Division III athletic conference,” DiBartolo said.
The eight institutions coming into the 2018-19 academic year are York, St. Mary’s, CNU, Frostburg St., Penn St. – Harrisburg, Southern Virginia, Mary Washington and Salisbury.
“We still have strong members. There are some efforts under way in terms of looking at perhaps identifying new members, looking at the possibility of new members,” DiBartolo said.
One abnormality this does arise is the usual-balance of public and private institutions in the CAC. As of next year, only two of the eight remaining CAC schools are private institutions: Southern Virginia and York.
Possibilities seem bright for the CAC to add new members, especially after they added new members soon after losing them in 2007, 2010 and 2012. Via a D3hoops.com report this past summer, Southern Virginia was also looking towards the Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) as a potential destination geographically, but those thoughts were ended when Ferrum College was added by the ODAC instead.
As the highest-ranking athletics official at Salisbury University, DiBartolo is confident in the stability of the CAC and the loyalty of its members.
“The eight members that will remain in the conference after the 17/18 year are committed to the [CAC], and they want to do whatever they can and whatever we can to continue this fine athletic tradition of this conference,” DiBartolo said.
Alongside Salisbury University, the other seven members of the conference also confirmed their allegiance to the CAC during a meeting of the conference’s board of directors, who are each institution’s president, recently. With that confirmation from the remaining eight schools, Ligney does not have concerns for now about any other departures soon.
“Not as this time, I do not have any concerns about anyone else looking at their options to leave the conference,” Ligney said.
Future of the CAC and Salisbury University Athletics
As of now, the conference looks to brave the storm of realignment as they have in the last decade. To address concerns, Ligney put together a CAC membership committee to look over the recent issues.
“We have put a membership committee together to look at where we are at and we’re going to do going forward. We’re still in that process. We have not made any plans as of yet,” Ligney said.
The conference commissioner says that the committee will have a plan in place for the CAC over the next couple of months. DiBartolo also noted that all options are on the table, but the conference may be looking to add more members in the future.
For the Sea Gulls and their fans, the main concern is with Salisbury’s place in the whole equation. As one of those eight members, it is clear, at this point in time, that SU is sticking with the CAC as they have since 1993. Salisbury has enjoyed athletic and academic success in the conference, both at the local and national levels.
According to DiBartolo, one of the main factors that Salisbury enjoys in the CAC is the spread of the conference, allowing Salisbury to recruit well and compete across the Mid-Atlantic region.
“[The CAC] is kind of a mirror-image of the Division III membership group. It’s a combination of smaller and larger institutions. It’s a combination of public and private institutions,” DiBartolo said.
“We have a fairly wide geographic footprint, which allows institutions, like a Salisbury, to go out to the western part of the state and go up into Pennsylvania and compete and to go into Virginia and compete.”
All Salisbury athletics really knows of their national success has come as part of the CAC. It is one partnership that has overcome the ups-and-downs over the last few decades.
While it is preferable for Salisbury to stay in the CAC, the recent news of the departure of Wesley and Marymount displays that conference realignment is always alive and well. At least for now, do not worry fans, the CNU-Salisbury rivalry is not going anywhere.
“The competitiveness of the members of the conference, the success level of the many members within the conference, the comradery among the coaching staffs and the athletic directors and the presidents, are all things that make this a conference we want to stay in and a conference that is good for Salisbury,” DiBartolo said.
Both DiBartolo and Ligney spoke of the conference’s wide blueprint. The CAC still consists of both private and public institutions, a wide range of student populations, and a geographic footprint spanning from Virginia to Pennsylvania.
“Our presidents and [athletic directors] understand that that means that our student-athletes are getting a diverse experience when they go to these different places to play these teams. And we have kids from all over the country. That’s not always common in Division III conferences,” Ligney said.
The Flyer reached out to representatives from Wesley College and Marymount University. Wesley did not wish to comment on the situation. Marymount did not respond to requests for an interview.