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St. Mary's College of Maryland, other schools welcome six new members to Capital Athletic Conference Sports logo

The Capital Athletic Conference is getting bigger after it announced Tuesday that six new institutions will be joining effective June 15.

The CAC Board of Directors voted unanimously to offer full membership to six members of the American Collegiate Athletic Association, including the University of California-Santa Cruz, Michigan’s Finlandia University, California’s Mills College, Wisconsin’s Mount Mary University, Massachussetts’ Pine Manor College and New York’s Pratt Institute.

The conference is expected to be rebranded with a new name and logo over the coming months, it said in a news release on Tuesday.

"The Capital Athletic Conference is pleased to welcome these six institutions as the league's newest members," said University of Mary Washington President Dr. Troy Paino, chair of the CAC Board of Directors, in the news release. "We look forward to the bright future this newly-structured league will be able to offer our schools and student-athletes."

That brings the number of schools in the conference to 11 for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. It will be reduced to eight for the 2021-2022 school year as Southern Virginia, Pine Manor and St. Mary’s College of Maryland will be leaving.

“Ultimately it was a solution to keep the automatic bid, which the CAC was going to lose with our number falling below seven members,” said St. Mary’s College assistant athletic director and head men’s basketball coach Chris Harney on Wednesday. “So this was a move by the remaining schools — Mary Washington (Va.), Salisbury and Christopher Newport (Va.) — of trying to retain that automatic bid for most of their sports for the [NCAA] tournament.”

He added: “With the change in financial times and the dynamic of public college versus private college and the financial demand of travel, I think all of those intangibles are what led to this. When you start to talk about budgets and bus travel and travel in general, with some of these small colleges, it really causes a shuffle where some schools they financially can travel and some schools can’t. So I think that’s what you saw is a lot of this has been driven by financial need and being able to field teams and for that student-athlete experience. I think that’s what drove a lot of this.”

St. Mary’s is departing for the North Eastern Athletic Conference after the 2020-21 academic year, which was announced in mid-December.

“It’s bittersweet,” Harney said. “We like the CAC and it was a good league and it was competitive. We’re happy that the schools remaining in it found at least a temporary solution to keeping the bid and scheduling wise. But next year it will be just one year and then we’ll kind of be moving into our new home with the NEAC. … We’re just excited about moving to the NEAC, which we think is a better fit for our institution.”

Harney said the new member schools from the ACAA will not be playing the current CAC schools, like St. Mary’s, during regular season competition. The top two ACAA schools will reach the CAC tournament with the top four from the current CAC.

“It’s still a unique relationship as far as the way this league will work,” he said. “The remaining schools — Salisbury, Mary Wash and CNU — they’re going to have to schedule a lot of nonconference games, so they’re going to have to work through that. We’re really in it one more year and then we’re excited to move into the NEAC, which will be a bigger league and from a scheduling standpoint it’ll be less games nonconference that we’ll have to schedule and obviously we’ll have the bid for that league.”

From a basketball standpoint, Harney said the challenge will be the ACAA schools taking on current CAC schools.

“We have one of the top conferences in the country,” he said. “It’s a powerhouse for men’s and women’s basketball. The CAC is a really strong basketball conference, so I think those schools, they’re going to really have a tough time when it comes to the playoffs facing off whoever the CAC champion is. Typically whichever team wins the CAC is a very strong national contender just because of how competitive the programs are.”

The CAC conducts conference championships in 18 sports, eight men and 10 women. Men's championships include cross country, soccer, basketball, indoor track and field, lacrosse, baseball, outdoor track and field and tennis. Women's championships include cross country, field hockey, soccer, volleyball, basketball, indoor track and field, lacrosse, softball, outdoor track and field and tennis.

"This is an exciting, new era for the Capital Athletic Conference. The addition of these six schools will provide excellent opportunities for both our institutions and our student-athletes to experience new venues and conference opponents," said Salisbury University Director of Athletics and Campus Recreation Dr. Gerry DiBartolo, who is chair of the CAC Athletic Council, in Tuesday’s news release. "I am thankful to the leadership of the CAC Board of Directors for its guidance in leading this expansion effort.”

Twitter: @PWSoMdSports