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.
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.