York College's decision last week to change conferences starting in 2020-21 signaled a big change to come for the school’s 23 sports programs.
York was a founding member of the Capital Athletic Conference, which was formed in 1989, and has competed in the conference ever since
Last week, Paul Saikia, the assistant dean for athletics and recreation at York, said the main reason the college decided to move to the Middle Atlantic Conference was "stability."
While the coaches at York College are in different situations, three Spartans' head coaches agreed the move is best for the school and its individual programs.
"I think first and foremost it gives us stability," said men's lacrosse coach Brandon Childs. "It gives us the stability to move from one year to the next year without worrying. There’s no fear of our (automatic NCAA Division III qualifier) going away in the MAC. The CAC was getting close to that.”
Women’s basketball coach Betsy Witman said York had remained “loyal” to the CAC, but that moving to the MAC is best for the Spartans.
"It gets to the point when you have to take care of yourself, and I always thought the MAC was the best option,” she said. “I’ve developed a lot of friendships in the CAC, and I will miss competing against those programs and coaches. But I also know many of the MAC coaches, and I’m looking forward to joining that conference.”
Wrestling the big winner: The move to the MAC Commonwealth is better geographically for every York College team and better competitively for some. For the wrestling program, however, it gives Duane Bastress' squad a home.
Since 2013, the Spartans' wrestling team has been without a conference. The CAC doesn't support wrestling, and the Metropolitan Conference, which the York wrestling program was a member of, disbanded in 2012.
“We’re very excited,” said Bastress, who has led the Spartans for the last six years. “It makes me excited that now we can go compete for a conference championship.”
While the move to the MAC may not improve recruiting for most of York’s coaches, Bastress said explaining his program’s situation of being an independent has been difficult.
"I often get the question of what conference we’re in,” he said. “It’s always been a tricky conversation. Now that’ll be easier. I can say that your son can win a conference championship and get a banner hung in the gym."
It's not just Bastress who is excited for his program. Witman said the department is happy for the wrestling team.
“As coaches, we always cheer for each other,” Witman said. “I was very happy for Duane.”
Changes for men's lacrosse: If wrestling is the main winner from the move to the MAC, it's possible some programs could be worse off than they are in the CAC from a competitive standpoint.
For example, the men's lacrosse program, which is currently one of the top Division III teams in the country, will leave a highly-competitive CAC for the MAC, where the competition doesn't figure to be as stiff. Still, Childs doesn't believe the change in conference will affect his program's goal of continuing to be a D-III power.
"It wasn’t that long ago that York men’s lacrosse wasn’t competing to the level we are now,” Childs said. “Things change, and I think the MAC has such a rich tradition of athletics across the board that the conference will get there in time. There are plenty of good coaches and programs that will be a challenge to us.”
Childs added the guarantee of an automatic bid is the best outcome from the move for all programs.
"It’s a very real possibility that the CAC loses its (automatic qualifier), because next year there are only six schools in the CAC in men’s lacrosse and you need seven for an automatic (bid),” Childs said. “They give you a two-year period to get back up to seven, so they have until 2022.”
Better geography: Witman, who believes the competition level for women's basketball will stay the same, said she's "excited" about the move because of the decrease in travel time. All nine MAC Commonwealth colleges are in Pennsylvania except Stevenson and Hood, which are in northcentral Maryland. Most of the teams in the CAC, however, are more than three hours away from York.
“The travel won’t be as extensive,” Witman said. “We won’t have the overnight trips. We won’t be taking our student-athletes out of class. We won’t be getting back as late. For me as a coach, I won’t be gone as long. I have a young son, so I want to spend as much time with him and the long trips are tough."
Childs said being in the MAC could improve conference rivalries and bolster fan interest.
"It can be tough for fans to travel for conference tournament games when they’re far away,” Childs said. “It can be a better atmosphere for those meaningful contests.”
Keeping relationships with CAC schools: It's still early in the process, but Childs expects to schedule CAC schools in nonconference play.
"We’ll do what we can to put together the best schedule possible, and it will likely include some of those CAC schools,” he said.
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.