The Big South era of NC A&T athletics could soon be coming to an abrupt end after just one year.
NC A&T Director of Athletics Earl Hilton, in a 40-minute presentation before the Executive Committee of the university’s Board of Trustees Thursday, recommended that the school accept an invitation to move from the Big South Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).
Hilton’s recommendation was to accept the CAA’s invite for all sports except for football and bowling effective July 1, 2022. The proposal is to join the CAA for football in 2023. It is a decision that he has shared with both conferences, he said.
“I’m not interested in knee-capping the Big South Conference by pulling our football out for this fall and put them in a position to not qualify for an AQ (Automatic Qualification to the FCS playoffs for its champion),” said Hilton.
The Executive Committee, in a public meeting held virtually, approved the recommendation by a unanimous 10-0 vote. That vote will send the matter to the full Board, presumably at its next meeting. The full Board is scheduled to meet this Friday, February 18.
Words from the Chancellor
A&T Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr., gave his comments at the end of Hilton’s presentation and after a brief question and answer session.
Martin said the CAA was “our conference of choice” two years ago. At the time however, he said the CAA was more of a Northeast and Midwest conference. “The Big South was a better choice,” he said. Since the expansion of the CAA and new members that have joined, that has changed.
“I think this is indeed the right decision for our university and for our student/athletes,” Martin said. “Will we have to raise more money, make more investments in athletic facilities? Absolutely. We had plans to do that anyway even in our efforts to remain in the Big South.”
Unsolicited invite from the CAA
Hilton stated that the invitation came “unexpected and unsolicited” from the CAA in November of 2021. It came around the same time the CAA lost one of its anchor institutions, James Madison University. The Dukes announced then a move to FBS re-classification by joining the Sun Belt Conference.
The proposed move to the CAA comes just over two years after the same board approved a move to the Big South from the MEAC. NC A&T had been a founding member 50-years prior. That move officially took place on July 1, 2021.
Twenty-four months later the Aggies are pondering a new home after Monmouth and Hampton University bolted for the CAA. Two other football-playing only Big South members along with Monmouth – Kennesaw State and North Alabama – left for the Atlantic Sun (A-Sun). Those moves left the Big South with just five football programs, jeopardizing its automatic FCS playoff bid.
NC A&T not dissatisfied with the Big South
Hilton told the executive board that his recommendation wasn’t made based on dissatisfaction with the Big South but rather on a series of data-driven metrics. He presented a host of slides in his presentation that evaluated and compared Academic metrics on acceptance rates, median SAT scores, national university rankings and Carnegie classification between A&T and schools in the Big South and CAA.
The slides on Athletics variables included Leerfield Cup and Capital One Cup rankings, Net Rankings – what Hilton called the new RPI for basketball rankings – budgets, scholarships and television households reached between the two conferences.
“My recommendation has less to do with my concerns about the Big South,” Hilton said. “My recommendation has much more to do with the incredible opportunities that I perceive that are available by making this change and the opportunities to leverage A&T’s brand, where we are today, who we are today, in ways that we could not imagine or anticipate just a few short years ago.”
Hilton also said the Big South is “working to nail down” Bryant University of Smithfield, R.I., to become the sixth football-playing member of that conference. He said the tentative 2022 A&T football schedule has Bryant coming to visit the Aggies.
Changing NCAA landscape
Hilton also briefed the committee on the ever-changing landscape of college athletics and the wide-ranging impact of the NCAA vs. Alston Supreme Court decision, handed down in June of 2021. That decision led to the introduction of student/athletes being compensated for use of their Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) and has birthed an overhaul and re-structuring of NCAA by-laws.
Hilton said that many of the NCAA’s governing and enforcement powers and responsibilities are now being shifted to divisions and conferences. That has sent conference realignment “through the roof,” he said. Forty-seven schools have changed conferences so far in the last year. He intimated that more changes are coming.
What will the CAA look like
The make-up of full-time members of the CAA will be 12 schools and includes College of Charleston, Delaware, Drexel, Elon, Hampton, Hofstra, Monmouth, Northeastern, Stony Brook, Towson, UNC Wilmington and William & Mary. Hilton said the CAA wants to get to 14 teams,
The league is creating a divisional model of North and South teams. As of July 1, 2022, Charleston, Elon, Hampton, UNC-Wilmington and William & Mary would comprise the Southern Division. Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern, Towson, Stony Brook and Monmouth would be teams in the Northern Division.
The CAA also has Maine, New Hampshire, Richmond, Rhode Island and Villanova as football-only members. For football, Richmond, would be part of the Southern Division. If A&T decides to join, it would also be in the Southern Division.
“No doubt,” he said. “We’re continuing to evaluate the circumstances and situations and we will make decisions that are in the best interest of our student/athletes and NC A&T.”
Those decisions are all but made now.