Resurrecting the Yankee Conference in 2023

As the CAA's footprint continues to grow, the league's football-only members may want more compact geography. So let's bring back the Yankee Conference

The Yankee Conference dissolved in 1996.
Source: Wikipedia

Arguably, no conference has extended its bounds at the FCS level more than the CAA. Seeing the loss of James Madison as a chance to solidify for the future, the conference added five schools as full members to expand to 14 full members.

One member, Stony Brook, was previously a football-only member of the CAA before transitioning to full membership. For football, the makeup of the conference became even more South-skewed as only one of the four new CAA Football members, Monmouth, was a Northeast school.

The new direction of the conference seems alarming for schools like Maine and New Hampshire which will now have to make routine trips to Virginia and North Carolina. The new additions have ballooned the conference's football-playing membership to 15 schools, easily the biggest football conference in the FCS.

The CAA has strayed from its roots where several members were rivals in the Yankee Conference. With several schools in the CAA for only football, now may be a great time for the conference's football-only members to return to its roots.

CAA Football-Only Members

Albany, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Richmond, and Villanova are all football-only members of the CAA. These members would be the most likely to defect from the CAA because all of their other sports are housed in other conferences.

Albany, Maine, and New Hampshire are in the America East Conference, Rhode Island, and Richmond are in the Atlantic 10 (15), and Villanova is in the Big East. These schools have little to lose if they move from the CAA for football, especially from an exposure standpoint, which I will talk about later.

While it makes sense for all six schools to defect, my new Yankee Conference has Richmond staying in the CAA while the rest defect. Richmond has a strong set of regional rivals in the CAA so there is less incentive for them to leave for an upstart Northeastern league. So who fills out the rest of the conference?

The "Big South Two"

"The Big South Two" is the uncreative nickname I have given to Bryant and Robert Morris. Bryant and Robert Morris are in a nightmare geographic situation in the Big South-OVC alliance with both schools having to make routine trips to the Deep South and Midwest as part of the alliance.

The arrangement is awkward for everyone except fans of the two schools looking to escape the cold Northeast fall for barbecue and beaches. Given that both schools are football-only members of the Big South, the move would be easy and both are good geographic fits.

Bryant fits right in the heart of this revitalized Yankee Conference, while Robert Morris would provide Villanova with a travel partner. Now, we have seven members in the New Age Yankee Conference. Is there room for more?

While Robert Morris is a more awkward fit, the trips to Orono, Maine and Durham, New Hampshire are much more manageable than those to destinations such as North Charleston and Southeast Missouri State. The New Age Yankee Conference's New England schools would likely feel the same way as a trip to Pittsburgh is not as demanding on an athletic budget as trips to Elon and Campbell.

Duquesne/St. Francis

Duquesne is probably the best fit to put the New Age Yankee Conference at eight members as it is the lone football-only member of the Northeast Conference, a league itself beleaguered by instability. Duquesne gives Robert Morris a travel partner and an old rival, increasing fan interest in the Colonials. Adding Duquesne also opens the door to adding St. Francis, the other Pittsburgh-area FCS school.

It may be tougher to convince St. Francis to leave the Northeast Conference as they are a full member of the league, but the Red Flash can follow in the footsteps of Robert Morris and join the Horizon League while housing its football elsewhere. In the past, I've recommended such a move to the Big South, but the New Age Yankee Conference is a solid home for the Red Flash football program.

Media Rights

As I mentioned before, media rights play a huge factor in the feasibility of a breakaway of the conference's football-only members. The CAA just signed an "eight-figure deal" until 2026-27 with Flosports and CBS Sports Network for its 14 members, but the deal is more complicated and maligned beneath the surface.

It is unclear how much of a cut of the CAA deal football-only members get, especially considering basketball is showcased on CBS Network with the promise of broadcasting at least 20 men's basketball games on the network compared to no football games. It is reasonable to assume football-only members like Villanova and small-market ones like Maine and New Hampshire do not get a sizeable cut of this money.

With CAA football being completely relegated to Flosports and the occasional simulcast on a local over-the-air station, football-only members. However, the rights fees from Flosports have been redistributed to buy time on CBS Sports Network, meaning that the football-only schools see even less money. Given the CAA's previous deal distributed $4.5 million to its schools from 2019-2023, we can assume the deal is in the low 10s range in terms of millions.

If the deal is $10 million exactly for four years, then $2.5 million get distributed to CAA members each year. Divided across the 14 schools, that is around $179,000 per school.

For reference, Villanova makes $3.78 million per year in media revenue with the Big East and Rhode Island and Richmond both make around $333,000 in A-10 media revenue. (It was hard for me to find an up-to-date revenue number for the A-10 so I had to settle for the figure listed in their 2012-2020 deal.) Losing a small share of the CAA rights deal is not a big loss for these schools.

Streaming is the future of college athletics, but the CAA is on a service that most schools are not, which hurts them. College football fans can see nearly every other conference in the FCS and most of the Group of Five with ESPN+, which is cheaper than Flosports.

Unless someone is a diehard fan of a CAA school, they likely will not pay for Flosports on top of an ESPN+ subscription to just see one more conference. Long story short, the football-only members would not be giving up much.

Additionally, the E.W. Scripps Company recently started a sports division in hopes of taking over professional sports rights from failing regional sports networks. The modern Yankee Conference could provide live programming for the Scripps-owned stations across the country on top of CW stations across the East Coast.

A New Age Yankee Conference can turn back the clock a bit with its media rights. Throughout this Spring, the Pac-12's media talks have been a topic of much speculation.

One interesting aspect of this speculation is the Pac-12 is in talks with The CW as a primary partner. The CW has begun its foray into sports television as its primary partner for LIV Golf and is looking to broadcast the prospective Cincinnati Chili Bowl pending that bowl receiving certification. This has gained a mixed reaction, but for a new conference like this new Yankee Conference I am proposing is it really a bad idea?

The CW provides fewer barriers to access than Flosports with the only thing fans need to do is buy an antenna to access the over-the-air network. Furthermore, CAA schools like Maine and Elon already have deals with over-the-air stations to broadcast their games locally and avoid the FloSports paywall.

A TV deal with the CW could be paired with a streaming deal with an upstart service like Tubi or Pluto TV, which had the rights to Big Sky football. The name of the game is accessibility and a modern rethinking of the Yankee Conference could put its schools in a better position for exposure than their former homes, especially the CAA.

While the CAA is one of the FCS' strongest leagues. its sprawling geography comes at a detriment. The CAA's hodge-podge of football-only members, full members, and non-football members could lead to irreconcilable differences in the conference's future. As a result, a modern-day Yankee Conference may be more feasible than you think.