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February 09. 2012 7:55PM

PSU football to move to MASCAC

Win the conference and enough games to play in the NCAA Division III football championships.

The goal remains the same for Plymouth State University, but the Panthers will play in a new conference in 2013, joining a beefed-up Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference. PSU will play one more season in the New England Football Conference before joining the MASCAC, one of the major public-school conferences in New England.

The Plymouth State men's ice hockey team already plays in the MASCAC, and six other PSU athletic teams face schools from the MASCAC on the schedule. PSU athletic director John Clark said the move is a natural fit, aligning PSU with similar institutions.

“There are so many similarities with our students, programs, our philosophy and the way athletic programs are run as public institutions,” Clark said. “We have loved being a member of the New England Football Conference. That was toughest part, leaving the NEFC because of the respect and history that goes back several decades.”

Nine MASCAC teams will compete for a Division III automatic football bid, though the bid won't be available until 2015. Teams remain eligible for an at-large NCAA championship bid during a two-year waiting period.

PSU will join Bridgewater State University, Fitchburg State University, Framingham State University, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Westfield State University, Worcester State University, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and Western Connecticut State University.

“I share in the great excitement and enthusiasm of our member schools, who have all enjoyed great success, tradition and camaraderie in their current football playing conferences,” MASCAC Commissioner Angela Baumann said. “I know we are all looking forward to establishing new traditions of success in the years to come.”

The Panthers won't face Curry College on the football schedule unless the long-time rivals schedule a non-conference matchup. Clark said that is a entirely possible as football programs from the NEFC and MASCAC will share open dates on the 2013 schedule.

“I think the competition (of the MASCAC) is going to be very similar. We've played a bunch of those teams in the past and always had good games,” PSU coach Paul Castonia said. “I think moving forward, it's going to be a better fit for everyone involved.”

When asked about waiting two seasons for an automatic bid, Castonia said, “We'll still have plenty to play for with a conference championship and ECAC games, and if you're good enough, they'll find you with an (NCAA) at-large bid.”

Currently there are only six football teams in the MASCAC. The addition of PSU, Western Connecticut and UMass-Dartmouth will form a powerful Division III conference.

“Tradition and competitive excellence have been hallmarks of the MASCAC for over four decades, and the addition of football as a championship sport will undoubtedly add to that tradition,” Baumann said. “Our new football league will bring great excitement, enhanced visibility and most importantly, new opportunities for our student-athletes and member institutions going forward.”

The NEFC will be reduced to an eight-team conference in 2013 while keeping its automatic NCAA bid.

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