New name, same teams UMass favored, Maine 3rd in CAA’s inaugural season

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BALTIMORE (AP) – The teams are the same. The name of the conference, however, is decidedly different.

The 12 schools that last year comprised the Atlantic 10 Football Conference teams will play in 2007 as part the Colonial Athletic Association, which informally launched its inaugural football season Wednesday with “media day.”

The event was designed to introduce the CAA and its new television contract, the largest among the nation’s Football Championship Subdivision (formally Division I-AA) conferences. Thirty-one games will be televised, including 20 league games.

“It helps the coaches go out and recruit. While they’re sitting in the living room of some prospect, they can say we’ve been on TV x-number of times,” commissioner Tom Yeager said. “It helps sell the brand.”

The players like it, too. Tony LeZotte, a free safety for James Madison, said, “You get more exposure and can bring in better players.”

LeZotte and representatives from all 12 teams were surrounded by the media Wednesday in a well-attended event.

“You usually don’t see this. And the TV contract will give us exposure up and down the east coast,” LeZotte said.

Massachusetts, which returns 12 starters from the team that advanced to the 2006 national championship game, was picked to win the first CAA title, according to a poll of the league’s 12 head coaches and selected media.

UMass coach Don Brown dismissed the prediction with a wave of his hand.

“I was coach at Northeastern in 2002 when they picked us dead last. We won the whole thing,” Brown said, referring to the year he led the Huskies to a 10-3 record and the Atlantic-10 title. “So I’m not sure that thing has a whole lot of credibility.”

Brown was ambivalent about the shift of conferences, but a look around the room at the ESPN Zone in Baltimore on Wednesday altered his view.

“Initially, I just thought it was just a changing of the guard,” he said. “But this is quite a spectacle today. This is a great, great start.”

UMass was picked to win the North Division, followed by (in order) New Hampshire, Maine, Northeastern, Hofstra and Rhode Island.

James Madison was voted to be the South Division winner, followed by Delaware, Towson, Richmond, Villanova and William & Mary.

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