When a school leaves a conference, you don't expect it to be an amicable departure. You definitely don't expect the two conference's commissioners to work together to make it happen.
Yet, that's exactly what happened with Buffalo State football, which announced this week it will move from the Empire 8 to the Liberty League in 2019.
The switch, and why it's beneficial for both sides, comes down to two factors: tournament bids and geography.
To earn an automatic qualifier for the NCAA DIII Tournament, a league needs at least seven schools. This year the Liberty League shrunk to six with the departure of Merchant Marine, Springfield and WPI to the NEWMAC. If the Liberty League didn't add a school before the NCAA grace period ended in 2019, the conference's champion would need to get an at-large bid to get into the tourney.
On the other side, the Empire 8 was one school over the limit. So, the two commissioners came to a deal that benefits New York DIII football as a whole.
“This move is being made with the support and cooperation of the Empire 8 Athletic Conference and ensures that both conferences will continue to maintain access to the Division III football playoffs," Liberty League commissioner Tracy King said in a statement.
Empire 8 didn't help orchestrate the move just to help the Liberty League, though. The commissioners, King and Empire 8's Chuck Mitrano, have also worked out a connected schedule between the two conferences from 2019 to 2022. Since all the schools in the two leagues are in New York, it cuts down on travel immensely.
"With the Liberty League and Empire 8 now consisting of entirely New York football teams, I believe we have a greater chance at achieving long-term stability,” King said.
Buffalo State coach Jerry Boyes said a majority of the teams will play a 10-game schedule without leaving the state.
"It certainly helps out from a budget standpoint, so you don't have to travel 10, 12 hours for a game," Boyes said.
It also means long-standing rivalries, like Buffalo State's with St. John Fisher, Brockport and Cortland, will continue.
"They came out with a four-year schedule, and St. John Fisher, Brockport, Cortland and Morrisville, those four schools are constant on that schedule," Boyes said.
The Buffalo State move comes after the two leagues announced the top team from the Empire 8 and the Liberty League to not make the tournament will play each other in a postseason bowl game starting this year.
The Bengals join Hobart, Ithaca, Rochester, RPI, St. Lawrence and Union in the Liberty League, setting up opportunities for new and renewed rivalries.
"You look at it in a crystal ball, and you say, 'Boy, it makes sense,'" Boyes said. "I hope that it stays that way."