In a conference that has seen lots of changes recently, the CAA got news of one more big one this past off-season. Tom Yeager, the only commissioner the conference has known, will retire at the end of the academic year. There is a time and place for reflection on what he has built, along with his place as a well-respected influencer in college basketball, and that will come. A more pressing question is: what kind of conference will he leave behind?
An unfortunate part of his legacy will be that the CAA was hit hard by conference realignment more than once, and that can’t be pinned on him. The first time, just after the new century, put the conference in danger, but it survived and subsequently thrived after adding strong members from another conference. More recently, however, the conference was among the hardest hit, watching signature programs George Mason, Old Dominion and VCU leave along with Georgia State, who had just turned a corner after an otherwise uninspiring tenure in the conference. Two of those four left to play Division I-A football.
What remains is a solid conference that doesn’t have a signature program and/or one that has established itself as one to compete for an NCAA Tournament at-large bid in a lot of years. Where it was once quite comparable to the Missouri Valley Conference, and is still similar in many respects, perhaps the MAC is now a better comparison, as the MAC is tremendously competitive but has never had an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. Every team has been to a postseason tournament in the past four seasons, so there are some solid programs throughout the conference.
The conference had a very interesting off-season, to say the least, and for once, coaching changes were not a part of it. That was the good news, especially considering for months it was seemingly a foregone conclusion that one job would open up. The bad news is that a conference that projected to return much of its star power watched a likely Player of the Year candidate (Damion Lee) and the reigning Rookie of the Year (Elijah Bryant) both transfer. While some good newcomers enter, there’s nothing like proven talent. The conference still has a good deal of that, and recruiting overall looks pretty good, but watching them leave is a blow nonetheless.
On the competitive front, as noted the conference is certainly no less competitive than it was before. Last season saw four teams tied atop the conference when the regular season was over, with a team just three games back having to play on Friday night of the conference tournament. While a repeat of that may not happen, one thing that is sure to happen again is that no one should run away with this one. Hofstra is a fairly good pick to win, but any of the next three should pose serious challenges for the Pride, and contention from UNCW and Delaware can’t be ruled out.
In Yeager’s final year, the CAA should be a fun conference to keep an eye on. He will leave the game very highly respected for good reason, and he will leave the conference in a good place.
Predicted order of finish
Player of the Year: Juan’ya Green, Hofstra
Top Newcomer: Denzel Ingram, UNCW
Ron Curry, Sr. G, James Madison
Quincy Ford, Sr. F, Northeastern
Juan’ya Green, Sr. G, Hofstra
Ameen Tanksley, Sr. G-F, Hofstra
Terry Tarpey, Sr. F, William & Mary
In a rarity, the conference has had no coaching changes since the end of last season. It was widely speculated that one job would change hands, but that didn’t happen.