PITMAN, N.J. — The New Jersey Athletic Conference on Wednesday officially welcomed Wesley College, as well as Capital Athletic Conference members Christopher Newport, Frostburg State and Salisbury as new associate football members.
Southern Virginia also became the first institution in conference history to transition its institutional membership from affiliate to associate status.
Wesley has been one of the most successful collegiate football programs in NCAA Division III over the past decade. Director of Athletics and head football coach Mike Drass has guided the Wolverines to 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, including national tournament berths in each of the last 10 seasons. Wesley claimed eight ACFC titles during the conference’s existence, including six straight from a period of 2005 to 2010.
The Wolverines will open their season at noon Saturday, Sept. 12 when they visit Frostburg State.
“We were excited about the future of our football conference at the time of the agreement with the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC), and today represents the fact that the future is now in terms of our NJAC football expansion,” said Terry Small, NJAC commissioner. “Our presidents and athletic administrators have always sought stability in terms of our football membership, and we now believe that we have assembled one of the strongest football conferences in all of NCAA Division III.
“I personally would like to thank my colleague Tom Byrnes, the commissioner of the CAC, for his leadership throughout this whole transitional process. While we still have work to do in the 65 days leading up to the kickoff the 2015 season, Tom has worked diligently to help make today a reality, and I am very grateful.”
The expansion of the NJAC football membership became possible due to an innovative partnership developed between the presidents of both conferences. The College of New Jersey President Dr. Barbara Gitenstein and Frostburg President Dr. Jonathan Gibralter took on leadership roles in conjunction with the other presidents of the football-playing institutions in both conferences. Collectively, the two presidential groups developed an agreement that continued to feature many of the core values and principles associated with NJAC athletics, including conference-wide academic progress standards and standardized football roster rules.
“The NJAC is proud and honored to partner with the CAC to further enhance our strong football programs while respecting the academic priorities of our institutions,” said TCNJ President Barbara Gitenstein. “Dr. Gibralter and all of the CAC institutions and presidents have been extraordinary professionals throughout this process. I am confident that the partnership developed with our scholar-athletes in mind will yield tremendous benefits for our institutions beyond the playing fields and goalposts.”
“It was an honor and privilege to represent the CAC and to work with Dr. Gitenstein to refine the athletic and academic model for NJAC football that will prioritize the academics of each institution with qualify athletics,” said Frostburg President Jonathan Gibralter at the time of the agreement. “The CAC presidents unanimously supported the ideals that were developed. I believe this is a budding partnership with the NJAC institutions that can be strong and last for a long time.”
The additions to the NJAC will increase the league’s football membership to 10 institutions, including full-conference members Kean, Montclair State, Rowan, The College of New Jersey and William Paterson. In total, the 10 programs that will compete in NJAC football during the 2015-16 academic year have combined for 74 conference championships and 64 NCAA Tournament appearances.
The first NJAC conference contest of the season will take place on Friday, Sept. 4 when TCNJ travels to face Christopher Newport.