March 3, 2015

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Struggling economy could impact CAA, Minutemen

Samantha Webber/Collegian

If you’ve been following the conference shifts in college football this offseason, you might be a little confused by the names of the conferences, which once upon a time meant something other than being part of a money-making machine.

In 2011, the Big Ten will have 12 teams. Same goes for the Pacific-10. Meanwhile, the Big 12 will have 10 teams. Raise your hand if any of this makes sense.

Then, Texas negotiated the rights to its own TV network in exchange for staying in the Big 12, which will certainly be an interesting recruiting tool in the near future. While the Big 12 has a new sense of prosperity, the Colonial Athletic Association is just one example of Football Championship Subdivision conferences struggling with the economic recession.

Northeastern and Hofstra dropped their football programs while Rhode Island almost pulled its football-only membership from the CAA.

The move would have hurt Massachusetts significantly, as its only options for New England opponents would have been Maine and New Hampshire. Under that possibility, UMass would’ve certainly had to entertain the idea of moving conferences, likely to a less competitive Northeast Conference.

During media day, UMass coach Kevin Morris wasn’t concerned about the changes within the CAA, and for now he doesn’t have to.

Rhode Island is staying for another year while the CAA added Georgia State’s football program this year and will add Old Dominion next year. Although neither of those schools are in the Northeast, it at least ensures that the CAA isn’t going to collapse, or at least fall below 10 teams.

If the drama did anything to help the Minutemen, it gave them more leadership and a stronger incoming class.

The most obvious benefit is the addition of running back John Griffin. The senior was an All-CAA First Team selection and rushed for 1,009 yards on 207 carries for the Huskies. If he’s not the starter, he will likely split time with redshirt junior Jonathan Hernandez, who is already proven as a solid option.

As talented as Hernandez is, he will have a hard time making a case as to why he should play more than Griffin, who is already receiving praise for what he brings to UMass.

“How often are you able to get a senior to come into the program, who is a first team all-league back in your own league? He brings all that experience, that leadership and he’s very professional about how he goes about his business,” Morris said.

Griffin wasn’t the only senior to join the team. Redshirt senior Greg Niland will join his fellow Husky on the team and will have the duty of replacing former left tackle Vladimir Ducasse, a second-round pick by the New York Jets, on the offensive line.

Morris, looking for more experience to add to his relatively young receiving corps, plucked wide receiver Anthony Nelson, who should be used as a target often this season, away from the Pride.

Facing a shortage of seniors, the Minutemen needed all the upperclassmen they could get and Morris used that dilemma to entice the older players with playing time and a leadership role.

“Part of our recruiting pitch was just that,” Morris said of his efforts to bring in experienced transfers. “We have a very small senior class and like I mentioned, we’re going to be a young team. So with [Griffin, Niland and Nelson] coming in, those are the guys we targeted in the recruiting process when those programs fell through.”

Morris isn’t one known for being outspoken in his short tenure as a head coach, and would never publicly admit anything but disappointment about losing Northeastern and Hofstra. Privately, however, he has every reason to feel that the misfortune of two schools might be the best thing to happen to his program in the past year.

While UMass will have to get used to longer bus rides than it needed in the past, it can at least take comfort in the fact that the CAA isn’t going anywhere and neither is the program.

Morris also gets the satisfaction in knowing that he can count on some of his newcomers to contribute right away because of their previous experience.

And in case any other teams plan on folding anytime soon, former UMass receiver Victor Cruz did plenty in his first exhibition game with the New York Giants to put his school on the map, so Morris will be ready to take calls if the opportunity comes again.
The Minutemen did more than survive a financial bullet; they became winners of an economic situation that was meant to cripple the CAA. No, UMass does not get its own television station by staying in the conference. It just promises itself the right to play against the best in the FCS every year.

Adam Miller is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at amiller@dailycollegian.com.

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