Presidents of schools in the America East - a group including Towson - voted not to expand the conference yesterday during a special meeting in Boston, rejecting a proposed sub-major superconference with schools from the Colonial Athletic Association.
America East commissioner Chris Monasch wouldn't declare dead any expansion plans with CAA schools, and CAA commissioner Tom Yeager could not be reached for comment. But the athletic director of one CAA school, UNC-Wilmington's Peg Bradley-Doppes, indicated the vote extinguished any hopes for a union.
The America East schools "did not have the vote to bring anything forward," said Bradley-Doppes, whose school had been rumored to be the odd one out in any expansion of the America East. "It's now a moot point. For us, it closes the conversation and stops the speculation."
The 10 America East schools, including Towson, considered taking in six from the Richmond-based CAA, which mulled over expansion ideas of its own after three schools - East Carolina, American and Richmond - announced plans to leave in a span of nine months.
NCAA rules require conferences to have six core members in order to gain automatic bids to championships, so the defections meant the Colonial could not afford to lose another member heading into the 2001-2002 academic year. Mindful of that, the conference's presidents approved a move to join America East earlier this month.
Eight of America East's 10 schools needed to vote for the move. If all the schools had come together, the league would have had 16 schools, ranging from Orono, Maine, to Wilmington, N.C. Prospects of a seven-team football league attracted schools like Hofstra, a national power in the sport at the Division I-AA level.
Towson, the southernmost school in America East, would continue to play football in the Patriot League. Otherwise, it liked the prospect of regular competition with nearby schools that attract large numbers of Baltimore-area students, such as George Mason, James Madison, Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and William & Mary.
For the Towson athletic program, it would also mean fewer trips to northern New England.
At the same time, Maine and Vermont were two schools that opposed additional teams in their conference, citing increases in travel costs and missed class time. The idea of 16 schools competing for one automatic bid in basketball also loomed as a concern.
Another factor, which roamed beneath the surface since talks between the two conferences began in early June, was what Bradley-Doppes described as "ownership issues." The America East saw expansion as the way in which CAA schools would join them. The CAA schools - recently rated among the top dozen athletic conferences - saw it as an equal merger between its group of six and a another group of 10.
"The CAA felt very comfortable in the powerful recognition of their conference as a quality conference," Bradley-Doppes said. "The only thing we would look at would be to add schools or to do a merger."
"The membership looked at all the issues," Monasch said. "They have done what they thought was in their best interest and they are comfortable with that."