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Mar 09, 2022

Monmouth University Moving into Colonial Athletic Association

By Tim Morris

A new era in Monmouth University Athletics is set to begin in the fall. That’s when the university joins the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), one of the leading mid-major conferences in the NCAA.

“It’s all about growth and moving forward into the future,” Monmouth Director of Athletics Jeff Stapleton said at the news conference announcing Monmouth’s joining the CAA. “[The CAA] is a great fit for Monmouth.”

In announcing Monmouth’s entrance to the CAA starting in the fall, Monmouth University president Patrick F. Leahy called the move “a home run” for the university. Leahy pointed to three primary reasons for Monmouth’s joining the CAA. The first, he pointed out, was to “elevate athletics” by competing in one of the top mid-major conferences in the nation. The move will also allow Monmouth to consolidate all of its sports (save bowling) under one roof. Monmouth teams have been competing in 24 sports in various conferences (Big South, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and America East Conference), depending on the sport. Now, they will all have common opponents. The second reason Leahy noted was “expanding our brand” for recruiting. Monmouth will be leaving its footprint all up and down the East Coast in Boston, Long Island, Philadelphia, Delaware and Baltimore. Third, and most important, he said was being “associated with some of the finest universities in the region and country.” He added, “It will burnish our athletic and educational reputation.”

Speaking for her fellow Hawk athletes, Cassie James, a member of the women’s lacrosse team and vice president of the student-athlete advisory committee, said Monmouth’s student-athletes are “ready to accept the challenge for greatness. Monmouth’s student-athletes are fearlessly competitive.” James noted that the CAA is a prestigious conference that can offer the Hawk athletes a “higher level of success.” She added the conference will give the Hawks the chance to prove their competitiveness against quality competition and build on what those who preceded them had established.

CAA schools have won 18 NCAA team championships and 33 individual NCAA titles.

CAA Commissioner Joe D’Antonio, said that getting Monmouth to join the CAA along with Stony Brook and Hampton University, was a 15-month process. The conference, he explained at the press conference, was looking toward future success and “building a sustainable and competitive model.” That included expansion, and it was looking for universities and colleges that could offer competitive athletics and academics excellence. Monmouth University fit the criteria.

“Monmouth is a prestigious institution for academic and athletic excellence,” said D’Antonio.

Leahy remarked that members of Monmouth’s Board of Directors were unanimous in the vote to join the CAA.

“This is a momentous day for Monmouth University as a whole,” he remarked. “We enthusiastically accept the invitation to join the Colonial Athletic Conference.” 

King Rice, the men’s basketball coach, pointed out that Monmouth is familiar with CAA teams, having played some of the schools in non-conference games. Those games, he said, proved that the Hawks are able to compete with them. Krissy Truner, the head coach of the women’s soccer team that has taken the Hawks to the NCAA tournament as well as multiple conference titles, believes the CAA is going to make the Hawks even more competitive.

“The players [in the CAA] are more competitive, and that will help us reach our end game of advancing in the NCAA tournament,” she said. 

Women’s softball Coach Shannon Salsburg said the CAA is a “difference maker in recruiting,” helping her get more outstanding talent for the program. The CAA’s softball teams are perennially nationally ranked, she noted. The Hawks have won the last three MAAC regular season softball championships.

Football Coach Kevin Callahan, who won multiple conference titles and took the Hawks to the Football Sub-Division National Tournament, said the Hawks are excited about the prospect of joining the CAA, saying, “I had a talk with the team this morning, and the guys were pretty fired up.” Callahan has overseen Monmouth’s rise from Independent to the Northeast Conference to the Big South. The Hawks managed to excel at all levels, and Callahan believes his players can contend for championships in the CAA.

“This represents another step in the evolution of the program,” he said. “This will be the most difficult conference schedule we’ve ever faced. Week after week will be a battle.”

Callahan added that being in one conference will help the athletic department overall.

“The coaches are a tight community, and focusing on one conference will be a benefit,” he said.

All of Monmouth’s athletic teams will finish out their 2021-22 seasons in their respective conferences. The university will officially join the CAA on Friday, July 1.

At the conference, Stapleton said the next challenge for Hawk teams will be which one is the first to win a CAA championship.

The schools that Monmouth, Stony Brook and Hampton are joining are: Northeastern, Drexel, Hofstra, Delaware, Towson, William and Mary, College of Charleston, Elon and North Carolina-Wilmington.

For football only, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Albany, Villanova and Richmond compete in the CAA.