The University at Albany football program is moving on up.
Just in time to play its home games in its new stadium, which is scheduled to be completed next year, UAlbany has announced it is joining the Colonial Athletic Association, beginning in 2013.
UAlbany currently competes in the Northeast Conference. The Great Danes won the NEC championship and earned their first NCAA Division I Championship berth a year ago.
“The invitation to join the CAA is [a] reflection of the outstanding leadership of president [George] Phillip,” said UAlbany athletic director Lee McElroy in a press release. “UAlbany football, under Bob Ford, is excited to compete in the top FCS [Football Championship Subdivision] conference in the nation. Our student-athletes, fans, alums and staff look forward to promoting the tradition, pride and achievement of the Great Danes.”
“This is where we belong,” said Ford, who has been the Great Danes’ head coach for 39 seasons. “We are in the best FCS conference in the country, and it will be interesting now to see if we can handle it. It’s one thing to play a team like James Madison or Delaware once or twice a year. It’s another to play those teams three or four weeks in a row.
“But this is definitely the place for us,” Ford continued. “It will be fun to see how long it takes us to be competitive, but we’ve got an outstanding football tradition, a good complex, and tremendous coaches. We haven’t lost one of our top coaches in our staff in four years. The only thing missing right now is a stadium, and we will have that once we begin the new conference.”
Ford, in a telephone interview, recounted how UAlbany has grown by leaps and bounds since he first arrived on campus.
“When I first came here in 1970, I couldn’t helped but be awestruck by the size of this campus,” he said. “It was all brand new when I first came here, and when you looked at the academic requirements, it was like a public Ivy League school. But when you looked at the football schedule I had to begin with, I had teams like Niagara, Siena and Hudson Valley. I knew we had to start somewhere, and we had to start at the bottom.
“That’s the way it was when UAlbany was in the college division, but when the [SUNYAC] board of trustees loosened up the regulations, Buffalo immediately jumped to Division I, and then teams like ourselves, Binghamton and Stony Brook followed later. The catch was that you had to spend four years at the Division II level before you went DI,” Ford explained.
“We finally got into a DI non-scholarship conference, but the NEC eventually voted to have between 30 and 32 scholarships. We’re up to 38 now, but we’ve been playing up against teams like Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Northeastern, Hofstra, Georgia Southern, Florida International and Stephen Austin of Texas.
“We’ve also played a lot of the Ivy League schools, and we’ve competed against the CAA and the Patriot League. I always thought this is where we belonged. We won’t have 63 scholarships like most of the CAA teams do, but we’ll eventually move up from 38 to about 50. We are a large public university with great academics. We are a fun school with a lot to offer. All we need now is the scholarship money to get the job done,” Ford said.
“I wish I had 25 more years to continue to build this program. It will definitely be exciting to watch all of this unfold. At least I can look back and say I’ve had a hand in building the program to where it is. We’re going in the right direction, but I wish I was 45 instead of 75 so I could see how much more we will grow.”
Stony Brook, an old SUNYAC rival of UAlbany, is also joining the CAA next year.
“This is certainly a momentus day for CAA football,” said CAA commissioner Tom Yeager. “The addition of Albany and Stony Brook bring playoff-tested programs from the Northeast into an already nationally prominent league.
“Albany’s success last season is evidence Coach Ford has built a program that will be ready to compete right away in our league. Coinciding with its new on-campus football stadium opening in 2013, we are looking forward to having the Great Danes create some great conference rivalries immediately.”