Interesting perspective, but not sure I see it the same way.New England is going to be an interesting place to watch over the next year or so, since it’s ground zero for a lot of big changes in higher education. Tuition-dependent institutions without elite pedigrees are going to face even stronger competition for enrollment dollars, and those pressures are likely to be stronger in New Jersey and Connecticut than they might be in say, Texas.
Those pressures could encourage a D-II school to move up, hoping to earn more marketing exposure, like New Haven is attempting to do. It might also encourage a D-1 school to move down, in an attempt to get off the steep cost curve in D-I. From the CAA to the NEC to the AE to the MAAC and beyond, don’t be surprised to see shuffling, or strong rumors of shuffling, as schools reevaluate what they want, and what’s financially possible, with their athletic departments.
Hartford is an unknown, but the status quo would mean the AE stays at 10 and doesn't explore expansion.
Regardless of Hartford's decision, it is an extremely unlikely scenario that any of the CAA school would decide to return. I think we all agree that is likely just wishful thinking. I don't see any reason (budget/travel/otherwise) that a return the the AE benefits any of the CAA schools. You could argue Hofstra and Northeastern make the most sense, but I still don't see that in the cards. What other non-football schools would be there to replace Hartford - Fairfield, Quinnipiac, Iona?
The MAAC is already at an uneven 11 teams and you could see the schools that might have interest. Hartford - could they save $$$ in the MAAC? Sacred Heart and Bryant - step up in class with some former NEC programs. Wagner - was considered last round of expansion. I'm sure the MAAC folks would love to have Fordham return, but that is extremely unlikely. Could they woo a pair of Philly programs in LaSalle and Drexel - I doubt that tooo.
And who want to join the NEC other than New Haven? I do think the NEC could add Howard and Delaware State, if the MEAC continues it demise. Morgan State and MD-Eastern Shore are much less attractive.
I'm sure the parts are gaining to move again soon, but I have a hard time seeing the next piece to fall. Sure, Hartford would be a national shockwave, but even that may only have a minor impact on current conference alignments.