How One St. Francis Can Push Another to The Big South For Football

St. Francis (Brooklyn)'s exit from the NEC makes the conference even more unstable and could be the last straw for St. Francis (PA).

Saint Francis is the only full NEC member in Pennsylvania

When the Northeast Conference should have reveled in the spotlight Fairleigh Dickinson’s upset provided the conference, other news brought concern to the conference. Yesterday, St. Francis (Brooklyn) announced it was cutting all of its athletic programs effective after this academic year.

This puts the conference at eight members for Olympic sports. The conference’s football-playing membership remains unchanged as St. Francis-Brooklyn did not have a football.

Unfortunately, losing one St. Francis (Brooklyn) may cause the Northeast Conference to lose the other St. Francis. With the NEC at eight members, it is more vulnerable for the America East Conference to poach members to either even their numbers at 10 or become more stable by adding multiple NEC members. The NEC’s only non-football-playing member Fairleigh Dickinson looks like an attractive addition to the non-football America East.

This vulnerability, combined with less-than-ideal geography for St. Francis (PA) may push the Red Flash to the Horizon League. The NEC already lost Robert Morris to the Horizon League in 2020 and the Horizon League also has nearby Youngstown State and Cleveland State. More importantly, the conference has 11 members in a compact geographical footprint.

Not only is there more stability, but St. Francis would have three schools within a 200-mile radius in Cleveland State, Youngstown State, and Robert Morris. Saint Francis (PA)’s closest NEC opponents in Olympic sports are Wagner and Long Island University at 300 miles. Saint Francis does have Duquesne as a travel partner in football, but not for Olympic sports, which makes NEC membership less attractive.

There are other advantages to Horizon League membership such as the conference basketball tournament’s semifinals being held at one fixed location rather than on-campus sites as it is in the NEC. Additionally, several road destinations are in more attractive cities for St. Francis fans such as Detroit, Milwaukee, Indianapolis, and Cleveland compared to some of the NEC’s cities like New Britain or North Andover. No offense to residents of those two cities, this is strictly from a tourist perspective. Additionally, the league is spread across more major TV markets than the NEC, which increases viewership.

The Big South has Robert Morris as a football member and now is the perfect time to add St. Francis and Duquesne as football-only members, Duquesne is in the Atlantic 10 (14, actually) for Olympic sports, so not much would change for them, but a potential addition of St. Francis (PA) would come after the Horizon League adds the Red Flash.

The Big South would then increase to six members and preserve its automatic FCS Playoff spot without the need for an alliance with the Ohio Valley Conference, preventing Bryant from making long trips to Lindenwood and Southeast Missouri State. The five-game conference schedule would allow all six schools to schedule more regional non-conference games as well, taking the place of Ohio Valley Conference games that were part of the alliance.

Whether getting St. Francis and Duquesne hinges on behind-the-scenes talks with the Horizon League or something else the Big South needs to make this happen to gain some stability, even if it is a small amount they gain. St. Francis (Brooklyn) may have improved the situation of its twin from Loretto, Pennsylvania by simply bowing out of athletics.