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George Mason and VCU leaving the CAA would make no sense

March 27, 2012 Columns No Comments

Earlier in March, there was rumor going around that the Atlantic 10 might look into luring big-time Colonial Athletic Association schools like George Mason and VCU, and another couple of schools were mentioned as well. No one felt it had any legs, but as we near the end of March, that has gained traction. With CBSSports.com reporting that George Mason, VCU and Butler of the Horizon League are indeed having conversations about it, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager had to address it, just as the CAA schools did.

The question one has to ask, though, is something else: why would George Mason and VCU leave the CAA for the Atlantic 10?

Yeager spoke to about 50 members of the media about the rumors on Monday, starting off by calling it basically a “non-story”. VCU and George Mason each issued statements from their athletic directors denying the rumors, and Yeager noted that a piece of information of note in the report was not as substantive as it might first appear to the untrained eye.

The CBSSports.com report cited sources saying that VCU’s Board of Visitors has had at least two meetings about it, but Yeager said those meetings are open to the public and regularly covered by assigned media, which is hardly a forum in which such a move would be discussed. If a school is considering a move to another conference, those discussions would be held in a much more private setting.

As many an athletic director has said one thing and then done another regarding conference affiliation in recent times, Yeager admits he can’t know with 100 percent certainly if honesty is going on here. But it’s all he’s got, and Tom O’Connor (George Mason) and Norwood Teague (VCU) have top-notch reputations as athletic directors go.

“I am taking our people at their word,” said Yeager. “We have personal and professional relationships.”

Not only that, but he has to ask the same question about the possibility of the schools leaving for the Atlantic 10: why? Why would they make that move if it were a possibility?

George Mason and VCU are well-positioned to win most years in the CAA. Both schools have finished in the top five in the conference in each of the past five seasons, and each has made a Final Four run in the past seven seasons. Since 2003-04, at least one of them has been in the conference championship game in all but two seasons. With their success, recruiting is only getting better, and that shouldn’t change.

Furthermore, they are Virginia schools in a conference with five schools in that state, with a lot going for them that helps them recruit even aside from the past success. George Mason is a charter member, and in VCU’s case, their campus is right down the road from the site of the conference tournament, although it’s worth noting that during that weekend, the team stays in a hotel about 15-20 minutes away. Leaving the conference simply wouldn’t make sense, unless the Big East or ACC is coming calling.

Yeager alluded to this when he made the analogy of coaches staying at one school instead of jumping for what may be perceived as a better job. Sure, George Mason and VCU could be competitive in the Atlantic 10, which is good but not exactly light years better than the CAA, but is it better to be competitive or to have a chance to win most years?

“Sometimes there are other factors involved that cause people to appreciate where they are,” said Yeager.

The conference is in a good place right now, and it’s hard to see where the Atlantic 10 would have enough to offer them to blow them away. Last season was the CAA’s best ever, and while this season was a step back if one uses solely the number of NCAA Tournament teams as the measuring stick, there’s a lot of young talent in the conference that will start to show soon. In addition, CAA teams have continued to be well-represented in other postseason tournaments, which often gives younger teams more practice and game time and has helped them have greater success when those young players have developed. VCU is one such example, winning the CBI two years ago before the success of the past two seasons, and a year earlier Old Dominion won the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

In February, the conference reached a major agreement with NBC Sports that will only further grow the conference’s national television exposure in football as well as men’s basketball. Sure, the Atlantic 10 has a national television deal as well, but is it really that much better, especially with 14 schools already (soon to be 13 once Temple departs for the Big East)?

Right now, the CAA is in a very good place. It’s a powerhouse in football and growing in men’s basketball, appears to have stable membership, and because of that there is no real reason for the conference to even seek new members. With the recent success, many teams are seeing benefits in recruiting; George Mason and VCU are among those who are reaping them even more so from their own success. Yeager was asked if the conference had looked into adding new members and said there is no need to.

“We’re in a very good place, and we believe that we could expand if we wanted to, but right now, we’re continuing to work towards getting better next year with the team we’ve got,” said Yeager.

At the rate the conference is going, next year will be better than this year, a trend that should continue. George Mason and VCU have plenty of reason to remain part of it.

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