Monday, March 26, 2012

Take the Last Train to Lewisburg

Various media outlets gave credence this week to the rumors that have been swirling in CAA circles for some time. Conference hoops stalwarts George Mason and VCU are in discussions with the Atlantic 10 to leave the Colonial and join what is arguably the nation's best mid-major basketball conference. With Butler having already announced its intention to join the Newport News-based A10, it's hard to fault Mason and VCU for their interest.

The last time the CAA was similarly threatened in 2001, as Richmond, ECU, and American left the conference for widely divergent reasons, Tom Yeager engineered a deft raid of the America East, adding Hofstra, Delaware, Drexel, and Towson. Northeastern and Georgia State joined the CAA in 2005 to round out the current all-sports membership. (Richmond, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Villanova are football-only members - this is important.)

Our sources in the William and Mary athletic department have been extremely tight-lipped on the rumors, and in the absence of any hard news, we're left with speculation. It seems obvious that football is driving the CAA's strategic planning (and our violent disagreement with this will be the subject of a future post - the Cliff's Notes version is Division 1 hoops will always be a more valuable property than 1-AA football). As is our typically paranoid wont, let's start with the worst-case scenario. (Implicit in this discussion is the idea that schools can get out of any legal entanglements tying them to their current conferences.)

In the doomsday version of the future, Mason, VCU, and Drexel all leave the CAA for the newly configured (and really fun, frankly) Atlantic 10. ODU accelerates its transition to FBS football and joins the Sun Belt, as does Georgia State, leaving W&M, JMU, UNCW, Delaware, Hofstra, Northeastern, and Towson in an oddly configured seven-team league. Wilmington realizes it's better off as part of the Southern Conference or the Big South, and Hofstra, Delaware, and Northeastern head back to the America East with visions of SOUTHERN BIAS fading to a bad memory.

So W&M and JMU are left holding hands and looking around. The Big South represents a huge step down for both, leaving the Southern Conference and Patriot League as the only viable options. JMU probably prefers the SoCon, but W&M likes the idea of affiliating with the Patriot's elevated academic reputation. In the end, the two schools get pressured by Richmond to stay in the same league, but JMU's outsized football ambitions lead it southward temporarily as they plan for the FBS leap, while W&M is secretly happy to de-emphasize athletics, becoming the Patriot League's 9th member.

On the plus side, it makes our chances of reaching the Big Dance better, if you ignore the fact that Lehigh smoked us this year, Bucknell is a legit program, and we couldn't beat American when we were in the same league.

Pollyanna's sporting vision looks a little different, but not actually all that great. In this version of the future, the CAA still loses Mason and VCU (this is happening, boys and girls, whether we like it or not - it'll be kind of a bummer having to cut loose KQ from our gang, but getting to keep Mr. KQ will make it okay). Georgia State also leaves the conference to pursue FBS football, which is a net positive - the Panthers never really fit with the CAA.

Yeager and the crew in Richmond have planned for this moment, though, and their agreement with NBC Sports is a valuable leverage point. The CAA pilfers Appalachian State from the Southern and Coastal Carolina from the Big South (whose new head football coach, Joe Moglia, is the former CEO and current Chairman of TD Ameritrade - don't undersell the value of those connections) to add a pair of quality FCS football programs. The league also adds the College of Charleston, looking for an upgrade in hoops competition, to round out a 12-team conference.

This new configuration gives the CAA more geographical balance, and makes it an even better football conference. It probably also guarantees ODU multiple conference hoops titles in the next few years.

There are a handful of other scenarios floating in rumorspace, some involving Richmond returning to the CAA with Charlotte, as the latter starts a football program in 2013. Instructively, in none of these scenarios is W&M an active participant in its future. If my highly scientific polling is accurate, a large majority of William and Mary alums couldn't give two shits about the College's sports destiny. In an increasingly constrained fiscal environment, would it surprise any of our readers to learn that W&M was looking for a way to field competitive athletic teams with a smaller outlay?

And that's why I'll see you all in Bender Arena for the Tribe's first-round Patriot League tournament game in March 2014.

BREAKING NEWS, ADDED BY YOUR DOOFUS OVERLORD: VCU says it is NOT looking into joining the A-10.


T.J. said...

Now both Mason and VCU are in denial mode. At least one of them is leaving, I am sure of it.

zman said...

They only way I would give a fuck about any of this is if W&M sneaks into the Ivy league, and said fuck is completely unrelated to athletics. W&M won't make the tournament in any conference.

Igor said...

VCU won't be able to have every game of every conference tournament at home in any other scenario. They like dancing. They may well stay with the Colonial.

Igor said...

Angelo Dundee last month. Bert Sugar this month. Look out next month, Ali.

KQ said...

Well thanks for everything guys, it's been fun.

Jerry said...

I've got no problem with us joining the Patriot League. It's the perfect profile for us, especially for basketball where we really can't compete with the various community centers in current CAA.

Tribe-level hoops and 1-AA football are equally unvaluable. But at least the football team wins conference championships and is in the mix for national championships.

I hope ODU goes 1-A. I want no part of them in our conference. CAA is by far the toughest league in 1-AA already, but it's reasonably fair because we're playing against legitimate schools. And "Georgia State"? Come on.

I'm not sure the Patriot League would take JMU. The academics are borderline, and their general brashness about athletics expansion might rub The Last Amateurs the wrong way. I'd be happy to take Richmond along with us, but they wouldn't leave A10 hoops.

rob said...

tribe-level hoops is more valuable than 1-aa football if the league stays intact and continues to improve - more ncaa tourney games = more revenue sharing.

rob said...

question for the w&m folk: do you concur with my assertion that most tribe alums don't give a flying fuck about w&m sports?

T.J. said...

Yes. Stop asking silly questions.

rob said...

just wanted to use 'concur' and 'assertion' together. been watching too much scotus coverage.

TR said...

I want to care. Honest. But the school just doesn't care all that much about the importance of an athletics program. Even men's soccer has taken a major downturn.

KQ said...

By the way, if you're looking for me if/when Mason has moved on, I'll be over at God Shamgod: The Blog.

Jerry said...

I have no idea what the financial #s look like - I suspect that you're right that if another team makes a Mason/VCU run then we get a decent amount of handout money.

I also suspect that Tribe football earns a ton more money through direct revenue and donations that basketball. They somehow came up with enough cash to build the Laycock Center.

It's probably not as much as the windfall the athletic department receives from watching another team win a few tourney games.

Bottom line for me - Tribe Football wins consistently -- they've won a handful of conference titles, had 2 legitimate chances to win a national championship (3 if you count the 97 team). They've had major events - sellouts, lots of alumni coming back to watch, me selling Daren an airplane bottle of rum for $10 at the JMU game in 04. They produce some great things and the basketball team...doesn't. For me, that's value, and that's why I'd prioritize football over basketball in realignment decision making.

Shlara said...

1. I do not like this Sam I am.
2. Looking forward to KQ's God Shammgod blog
3. I'm in AZ for work--and it's apparently spring training season. Lots of middle-aged overweight dudes in jerseys. This is their vacation. I'm not a baseball person, so I don't get it.

DavidSDawg said...

I can see Appalachian State leaving the SoCon for bigger and better as in FBS, but their rivalry with Georgia Southern
would keep these elite FCS Powers as tight as UGA vs. Auburn. I doubt App State leaves Georgia Southern for another FCS conference.

DavidSDawg said...

@ Jerry, you guys were SoCon at one time, why not come on back ? ? The Tribe & JMU in the Southern Conference. That'd make eleven, assuming no one takes Crapp State .Lets say we add Coastal Carolina who has already tried to get in the SoCon once, and or JSU from Alabama, who also made an earlier attempt, even if the goat herders do leave and that arguably is still better than the CAA is now, and makes a nice collection of well established programs. Unlike the media market driven national-ness of the realignment movement in the FBS from the Big Least on down, college football is a regionally organized endeavor. IMO if we can link the schools from one state to the next, we can make a conference. An FCS conference extending from Virginia through the Carolina's and Georgia to Alabama is a respectable footprint and incorporates a great diversity of highly competitive programs, both public and private.