Defections have CAA looking to add new members
By HANK KURZ Jr.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) Colonial Athletic Association Commissioner Tom Yeager has lost two long-time member universities in the last week, and is now shopping for replacements.
He's not happy about the task ahead.
"There isn't a commissioner around that doesn't think that this is a despicable part of our jobs," Yeager said. "In the last few days, I've been in conversations with other commissioners that weren't pleasant, and these are old friends. But I've been on the other side of those, too. It's never pleasant, but I think people understand the process."
Georgia State announced in April its intention to leave the CAA following next season, and this week, the hammer fell twice. Virginia Commonwealth announced it is leaving this summer for the Atlantic 10, and Old Dominion bolted two days later, to Conference USA. The Monarchs will play the upcoming season in the CAA, will not be eligible for conference postseason tournaments unless the conference changes its bylaws.
In a sense, Yeager said, the announcements by VCU and Old Dominion brought some relief because they came after weeks of questions about the league's future.
"It's profound disappointment at the same time, but we'll move on and go from there," he said Thursday. "You hate to predict anything at this time and age in college athletics."
The emotions go both ways, VCU coach Shaka Smart said. While welcoming the opportunity to compete in the Atlantic 10, it's a bittersweet departure.
"Definitely mixed emotions," he said Friday about the Rams' exit from the CAA. "It's just been three years for me, but for VCU. it's been many, many years. ... But again, the reality is we're dealing with a changing landscape, and it is a very dynamic, fluid situation."
Smart and VCU burst on the national map in 2011 when, as one of the last teams accepted into the NCAA tournament, the Rams won five games against BCS-level schools to reach the Final Four. Smart said he realizes the CAA made it all possible.
The league is somewhat unique in that its football operation is separate from the rest of its programs, and it's also the deepest in the country in the Championship Subdivision. Delaware, James Madison, Richmond and Villanova each have won the national championship since 2003, but that quality hasn't shielded the CAA from overhaul.
Two teams - Northeastern and Hofstra - have given up football entirely. Rhode Island is downgrading after this season, and Old Dominion, Georgia State and Massachusetts are moving up to the Bowl Subdivision following the 2012-13 season.
After next season, barring additions, the CAA will have only eight football teams and will have to add at least one to provide each team with eight league games, Yeager said.
And in basketball, the situation is murkier, even for next year
With UNC Wilmington and Towson facing sanctions likely to ban them from postseason play next season, and league bylaws disqualifying Old Dominion and Georgia State from the tournament, the league will only have seven teams for a tournament.
But Yeager, who had to find new members when Richmond, East Carolina and American left after the 2000 season, said he's taking a measured approach to expanding.
"We're not going to expand just for expansion's sake," he said. "There has to be a method and a result that's desired."
Updated May 18, 2012