SPRINGFIELD, Massachusetts — The Husson University football program from Bangor has accepted an invitation from Commonwealth Coast Conference Football to join their league beginning in 2019.
The Eagles have played in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) since 2009 and will remain in the league for the next two seasons. Husson is the defending ECFC champ and has won two of the last three league titles which earned the Eagles berths in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Commonwealth Coast Conference Board of Directors on Monday announced that Husson has been granted associate membership in Commonwealth Coast Conference Football, which will assume the operations of the New England Football Conference (NEFC) this fall and rebrand it.
Husson becomes the eighth football member accepted into the conference, joining the University of New England in Biddeford, Curry, Endicott, Nichols, Salve Regina, Western New England, and fellow associate member Becker.
Curry, Endicott, Nichols, Western New England and Becker are all in Massachusetts and Salve Regina is in Newport, Rhode Island.
Next fall, six teams — Becker, Curry, Endicott, Nichols, Salve Regina, and Western New England — will compete for the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division III Tournament with UNE scheduled to play its first varsity season in 2018. Husson will round out the membership in 2019.
Conferences must have at least seven teams to earn the automatic qualifier but the CCC Football has received an exemption.
“This is a good step forward for us. It will elevate our program,” said Husson director of athletics Frank Pergolizzi. “There’s no question the level of competition will be up a notch from the ECFC.”
He also noted that it will reduce the travel budget.
“It’s an all-New England conference so we won’t have to make the long trips to Gallaudet [Washington D.C.] and Alfred State [N.Y.]. We’ll also be in a conference with another Maine school,” said Pergolizzi. “We’ve never played an away football game in the state of Maine. And when we play at UNE, we won’t have to stay overnight.”
Washington is 653 miles from Bangor and Alfred State, which is joining the ECFC this season, is 658 miles away. Husson’s longest trip in CCC Football will be 317 miles to Springfield, Massachusetts, to play Western New England.
“We’ve always wanted to be in a New England football conference. We’re very excited about that,” said Husson head football coach Gabby Price. “The landscape in Division III football has really changed. This is a very good conference with teams that have great traditions. If we hadn’t accepted the offer, someone else would have taken it.
“This will be a great move for us,” Price added. “This will enhance the student-athlete experience.”
Keith Emery, who has guided Western New England to back-to-back NEFC championships and berths in the NCAA Division III Tournament, said he was “super excited” about having Husson join the conference.
His Golden Bears hosted Husson in an NCAA tourney game last fall, pulling away in the fourth quarter for 44-27 win that helped them earn a No. 21 ranking in the final NCAA Division III national poll.
Husson and Western New England are going to play non-conference games the next two seasons before Husson joins the league.
“Husson will definitely raise the profile of our conference,” said Emery. “They’re a great team, they’re very well-coached. They’re a real good program from top to bottom. This will help everybody get better. Playing tough teams week in and week out will help us compete nationally.
“We’ll have the best Division III conference in New England,” added Emery.
Price said Emery told him before the playoff game that CCC Football would be a good league for Husson.
“I appreciate Keith’s support and the support of everyone in the league,” said Price.
Price is also “appreciative” for the opportunity Husson received to be a founding member of the ECFC.
“It has been a terrific league. We’re looking forward to the next two years,” he said.
Norwich University (Vermont) left the ECFC to join the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) this coming fall and Becker is moving on to CCC Football. Alfred State and Dean College (Massachusetts) will join the ECFC this fall where they will compete with Husson, Castleton University (Vermont), SUNY Maritime (New York), Mount Ida (Massachusetts), Anna Maria (Massachusetts) and Gallaudet.
“Commonwealth Coast Football is delighted to welcome Husson University as our newest member,” said CCC Commissioner Gregg M. Kaye in a news release. “Husson is one of the strongest football programs among Division III private institutions in New England, and their addition makes CCC Football stronger.
“Since our September 2015 announcement that the New England Football Conference would be rebranded as Commonwealth Coast Football for the 2017 season, finding an eighth quality program has been a major priority for our membership. I am delighted that Husson has accepted our invitation to join CCC Football.”
The five current CCC football-playing institutions have combined to make 11 NCAA Division III football postseason appearances. Curry tops all CCC football programs with six NCAA tournament appearances (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008). Endicott has advanced to NCAA championship play twice (2010, 2013), while the winner of the final NEFC crown last fall, Western New England, has made three tournament showings (2011, 2015, 2016).
The Commonwealth Coast Conference, founded in 1984, is an NCAA Division III athletic league composed of 10 full member and four associate member institutions.
The conference will administer championships in 18 intercollegiate sports starting in the 2017-2018 academic year.