Maine Maritime Academy in Castine will be leaving the New England Football Conference in the fall of 2017 to join the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, which has decided to sponsor football.

MMA will join other NEFC members Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (Connecticut) along with current Massachusetts-based Liberty League teams Springfield College and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (New York) and Eastern Collegiate Football Conference member Norwich University (Vermont).

The NEWMAC champion will not earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Football Championship until 2019, after serving a two-year probationary period. Leagues must have seven teams to earn an automatic qualifier.

Husson University of Bangor is in the ECFC, which still will have seven teams after the departure of Norwich. But the Liberty League and New England Football Conference each would be reduced to five teams, which would cost them their automatic qualifier.

The NEWMAC will continue to evaluate the need for an eighth member.

“This is a wonderful moment for the NEWMAC,” Kim Bottomly, president of Wellesley College and chairperson of the NEWMAC President’s Council, said in a press release. “This growth is a testament to the continued academic and athletic excellence for which NEWMAC schools are known.”

MMA president William J. Brennan, director of athletics Stephen Peed and football coach Chris McKenney said it is a perfect fit for their football program, which has struggled to a 6-24 NEFC record during the past four seasons.

“The NEWMAC’s emphasis on academics, sportsmanship, honor and integrity make it one of the nation’s most prestigious leagues. It is an excellent home for Maine Maritime football,” Brennan said in the press release.

Peed called it an “extremely attractive destination for Maine Maritime” and McKenney added “we are excited to play some new teams and be part of a new conference with good academic schools and good football programs. We look forward to the new challenges and creating some new rivalries.”

Only two of the seven NEWMAC schools finished with a winning conference record last season. MIT went 7-0 to win the NEFC and wound up 10-1 after beating Husson 27-20 in overtime in its first round NCAA playoff game before losing to Wesley College (Delaware) 59-0 in the second round.

Norwich went 5-2 in the ECFC.

Husson athletic director Frank Pergolizzi predicted this would be “the first shuffle of the deck” in a potential reorganization of Division III football in the Northeast.

“This might be an opportunity for us to reconfigure our own league,” Pergolizzi said. “There will be a lot of moving parts.”

Husson University football coach Gabby Price said it is disappointing to see Norwich leave the ECFC and hopes they can still schedule them as a nonconference opponent down the road.

“I have tremendous respect for the football program at Norwich,” Price said. “They have a great tradition and do a great job.”

One possible replacement for Norwich in the ECFC is the University of New England in Biddeford, where administrators announced in December that it will add football as a varsity sport as early as 2017.

“We’re very interested in establishing a relationship with the University of New England,” Pergolizzi said. “We’d like to see them join the league.”

In addition to Norwich and Husson, the other ECFC schools are Castleton State (Vermont), SUNY Maritime (New York), Gallaudet (Washington, D.C.) and three Massachusetts schools: Becker, Anna Maria and Mount Ida.

The five remaining Liberty League schools for 2017 are from New York: Hobart, St. Lawrence, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Rochester and Union. The five left in the NEFC will be four Massachusetts schools — Western New England, Endicott, Curry and Nichols — and Salve Regina in Rhode Island.

There could be a number of changes.

Pergolizzi and Price favor adding schools to the ECFC and expanding the league.

“Scheduling nonconference games is a nightmare,” Pergolizzi said.

Husson repeatedly has contacted Maine Maritime Academy about scheduling a nonleague game, but McKenney and MMA officials aren’t interested, even though the two schools are separated by just 36 miles.

Husson won its first ever ECFC championship this past season to earn its initial NCAA tournament berth. The Eagles went 8-2, including a 7-0 conference regular-season record.

MMA was 3-6 overall, 2-5 in the NEFC.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...