Atlantic 10 to realign in 2004

With the addition of Towson University to its ranks beginning in 2004, the Atlantic 10 Football Conference will return to divisional play for the first time since 1998.

The A-10, which was known as the Yankee Conference until 1997, will now be made up of 12 teams split into two six-team divisions.

Hofstra, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Rhode Island will compete in the North Division, while Delaware, James Madison, Richmond, Towson, Villanova and William ‘ Mary will comprise the South.

Upon the implementation of the re-alignment in 2004, each Atlantic 10 team will play an eight-game Conference schedule, which will be comprised of five divisional games and three games versus teams from the opposite division.

Steppin’ Up

Some programs rebuild, others reload. And for Massachusetts coach Mark Whipple, first year sophomore Steve Baylark is clearly an example of the Minutemen doing the latter.

Faced with a gaping hole at the tailback position following the suspension of Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year R.J. Cobbs for the season and a week one injury to backup Raunny Rosario, Whipple placed his trust in Baylark to carry part of the offensive load for the University of Massachusetts, and the sophomore has not disappointed.

After a pair of impressive 100 yard performances in two of the Maroon and White’s first three games, Whipple made the decision to give the 6 foot 230 pound back more carries, and the Apopka, Fla. native has made the most of the opportunity.

Following a workman-like 35 carry, 146 yard effort in which he scored two touchdowns to help UMass shake off James Madison 31-26 and was named A-10 Rookie of the Week, Baylark was back at it for the Minutemen against New Hampshire on Saturday.

Carrying the ball through a driving rainstorm and battling with his footing on a sloppy, wet track, Baylark carried the ball another 25 times, this time for 125 yards and three touchdowns. It was good enough not only to pace Massachusetts to its third consecutive win, but to earn Baylark A-10 Rookie of the Week honors for a second consecutive week.

“[Baylark] is a strong, physical runner at 230 pounds,” Whipple said. “There’s still a lot he needs to pick up to become a complete player, but he works hard and he’s learning.

“I’m certainly happy with his production up to this point.”

For the season, Baylark has rushed for 584 yards on 122 carries in four 100 yard performances, and is tied for the league lead with seven rushing touchdowns.

On the Rise

Following its 44-30 win over New Hampshire, Massachusetts is threatening to give the A-10 three top five teams in both the Sports Network/CSTV I-AA Top 25, as well as the ESPN/USA Today poll.

Villanova (third) and Delaware (fourth) are now also both receiving first-place votes following wins over Northeastern and William ‘ Mary, respectively.

Northeastern (19th), is the only other A-10 school in the Top 20, although Maine falls just short at 21st.

Special Special Teams

Rhode Island placekicker/punter and all A-10 performer Shane Laisle tied a 29 year old school record when he kicked a 50 yard field goal in the Rams 27-9 win over Brown.

Ironically enough, the record was originally set against Brown, when former Ram Wally Christensen was good from 50 yards on Sept. 28, 1974.

Laisle, who also averaged 37.3 yards per punt, and placed five of six inside the 20 yard line for the game, is now a perfect six for six in field goal chances this season.