In December 2015, Ithaca College announced its athletic teams would be moving to the Liberty League no later than the 2018–19 academic year.
The process began before the end of April 2015, when three associate football members — Springfield College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the United States Merchant Marine Academy — announced they would be leaving at the conclusion of the 2016 season.
The Liberty League was at risk of losing its automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament if it did not find schools to replace them. Then came along the Bombers, who evidently have been looking to make a switch in conferences.
With the dominance of Commissioner’s Cup year in and year out, it was a no-brainer. The athletic program could be doing better than being a member of the Empire 8 Conference.
Looking at it from a football standpoint, it makes total sense. Despite SUNY Cortland’s joining the Empire 8 there is simply not enough competition to garner a nonqualifier bid for the NCAA Tournament.
With all due respect, wins over programs like Utica College and Hartwick College do not carry much weight with the NCAA Selection Committee.
While no one questions whether this was the right move for the Liberty League, many have come to wonder: Was this the right move for the college outside of football?
Only time will tell, but there’s nothing wrong with making some anticipated predictions.
Beginning with the basketball teams, it would not make much difference. With a finishing record of 16–11, if the women’s team were in the Liberty League, it would have been in the same boat, just squeaking into the conference tournament as it did this season.
Meanwhile, for the men’s squad, it would be a slight improvement. If the switch had already been made, it would have competed for the second seed in the Liberty League instead of missing out on the conference tournament this season.
For the track and field and swimming and diving teams, this is a huge win. No other two sports benefit more from this situation. For years, both programs have obliterated the Empire 8. In the end, it will only prepare the programs more for their respective state and national championships.
The switch has no impact on teams like wrestling or gymnastics, which do not compete in the Empire 8, so we cannot make an accurate analysis for them. Thus, for four out of the six winter sports, a shift in conferences would be beneficial, and two are up for grabs.
When the move happens, the Bombers will become the 11th full-time member of the Liberty League and thus transition into a new age of athletics at the college. Let’s hope this increased competition brings more national championships back to South Hill.