RMU To Join Big South As Associate Member
Colonials will compete in football starting in 2021.
Robert Morris University announced in a press conference Monday at the UPMC Events Center that the Department of Athletics will join the Big South Conference as an associate member in football beginning in 2021.
Beginning in 2021, the Big South will have five core members with football, including Campbell University (Buies Creek, N.C.), Charleston Southern University (Charleston, S.C.), Gardner-Webb University (Boiling Springs, N.C.), Hampton University (Hampton, Va.) and North Carolina A&T University (Greensboro, N.C.).
In addition, the Big South will feature four associate football-only members institutions, including Monmouth University (West Long Branch, N.J.), Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, Ga.), the University of North Alabama (Florence, Ala.) and Robert Morris. The Colonials will compete as an independent during the 2020 campaign.
"This is an excellent opportunity for RMU. Football has had a tremendous impact at the university, and joining the Big South will allow Coach Clark, his staff and our student-athletes to take the program to even greater heights," said RMU President Dr. Chris Howard, a former member of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.
Introduced at Robert Morris June 8, 1993, RMU football has won six Northeast Conference (NEC) titles, including the league's first five championships from 1996 to 2000, in the program's 26-year history. In 2010, the Colonials claimed the NEC title and became the first team in NEC history to garner an automatic bid to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs.
"This day signifies another milestone in growth of RMU athletics," Robert Morris Vice President and Director of Athletics Chris King '94 said. "We're excited to join the Big South Conference as an associate member in football and become a part of a league that has sent multiple teams annually to the FCS Playoffs in recent years. We see this move as an opportunity for the football program to build new and exciting competitors, enhance recruiting and provide a focus on football excellence. We look forward to our football program building great traditions and rivalries in the Big South and contend for a Big South Conference championship and an FCS Playoff berth. Today is a great day for the university and athletics program."
Robert Morris has compiled an overall record of 133-141-1 (.485) in 26 seasons, including a mark of 84-74 (.532) against NEC foes. During that stretch, a total of 14 student-athletes have earned major NEC awards, while 92 Colonials were recognized with All-NEC honors a total of 156 times since 1996. Also during that span, a total of 13 student-athletes have earned FCS All-American honors.
"Throughout the 18-year history of Big South Conference football it has been our goal to grow membership in a smart, deliberative manner, emphasizing consistency with Big South values, commitments to success and strong leadership," Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander said. "Robert Morris University football brings all these attributes and more. With the Colonials coming onboard, Big South football gets better, and our future shines that much brighter. We are excited to welcome Robert Morris as the Big South's ninth football member."
Robert Morris is led by Bernard Clark, Jr., who enters his third season as head coach in 2020. He guided the Colonials to an overall record of 7-5 (.583) in 2019, including a mark of 6-1 (.857) in the NEC. The Colonials finished second in the league standings last season, and Clark was tabbed the 2019 NEC Co-Coach of the Year while being named a finalist for the 2019 Eddie Robinson Award.
"On behalf of the Robert Morris football program we're thrilled to be joining the Big South in 2021," Clark said. "I speak for our coaches and student-athletes that this move will help us elevate the program to new heights. I'd like to thank Commissioner Kallander as well as RMU President Howard and athletic director Chris King for this opportunity."
A 1989 graduate of the University of Miami with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration, Clark was a key contributor at linebacker for the Hurricanes as they claimed national championships in both 1987 and 1989. As a sophomore, Clark was named the MVP of the 1988 Orange Bowl after helping lead Miami to a 20-14 victory over Oklahoma and the national title. Clark finished with 14 tackles against the Sooners, including 12 solo takedowns.
Clark is the third head coach in program history, following Joe Walton (1994-2013) and John Banaszak (2014-17). Walton posted an overall record 114-92-1 (.553) in 20 seasons, including a mark of 73-47 (.608) ledger against NEC foes. A four-time NEC Coach of the Year (1996, 1997, 1999, 2010), Walton guided the Colonials to a perfect 10-0 record in 2000, the only undefeated season in RMU's NCAA Division I history in any sport. Joe Walton Stadium opened in 2005 and has been the home of the Colonials for 15 years.
RMU has also been honored for its work off the field, as a total of six Colonials have been named an Academic All-American according to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) a total of 11 times. In addition, Robert Morris has had 21 student-athletes earn CoSIDA Academic All-District 2 distinction a total of 34 times since 2000.
Former defensive lineman Nolan Nearhoof (2009-12) is one of the most decorated student-athletes in program history, as he is the only NEC student-athlete to be tabbed a CoSIDA Academic All-American three times. Nearhoof, who was also named a 2012 National Football Foundation (NFF) National Scholar-Athlete, earned CoSIDA Academic All-America Second Team accolades in 2010 and 2011 and first team honors in 2012. Nearhoof finished with 213 career tackles and is the program's all-time leader for sacks (26.5).
Robert Morris has had one former student-athlete drafted in the National Football League (NFL), as former running back Tim Hall (1994-95) was selected in the sixth round (183rd pick) of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. Hall rushed for 2,908 yards on 393 carries in two seasons as a member of the Colonials, and his career average for yards per rush (7.40) stands No. 1 in the NCAA FCS record book entering the 2020 season.
RMU has also had six former student-athletes sign free agent deals with NFL teams during its 26-year history, including former offensive lineman Hank Fraley (1996-99). Signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as a free agent in April of 2000, Fraley was claimed off waivers the following August by the Philadelphia Eagles. For four straight seasons with Fraley starting at center from 2002 to 2005, the Eagles appeared in the NFC Championship game. Fraley became the first RMU football alum to appear in the Super Bowl when he started at center against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. Over the course of a 10-year career with the Eagles, Cleveland Browns and St. Louis Rams, Fraley started 123 of his 142 games and also earned 10 starts in the postseason.
Also signing free agent deals in the NFL for the Colonials were wide receiver DeLonte Perkins (1995-97), quarterback Tim Levcik (1998-2001), defensive back Robb Butler (2002-03), offensive lineman A.J. Dalton (2010-13) and defensive back Marcels Branch (2012-16). Perkins signed with the Green Bay Packers in 1998, Levcik with the Miami Dolphins in 2002 and Butler with the San Diego Chargers in 2003.
Butler played in five games for the Chargers in 2004, registering seven tackles, and also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. Dalton signed with the Detroit Lions in 2014, while Branch signed with Atlanta Falcons in 2017.