Friday, May 18, 2012
Ten years from now, when the storytellers recall the greed, fear, and ambition that spelled doom for the CAA, we'll know whether Wood Selig was right to press ODU to accelerate its gridiron plans. Whether VCU President Michael Rao was wise to forego a $5 million bird-in-hand in hopes of taking flight.
Today, though, we sift through the wreckage of a league that seemed on the verge of, if not greatness, then sustained upper middle class excellence. Just one year removed from its first three-bid NCAA Tournament and only six beyond the most unlikely Final Four in history, the CAA is no more.
Sure, it'll live on in name for at least a few more years. Maybe Commissioner Tom Yeager will pull another rabbit from his hat, and cushion the loss of ODU and VCU with a College of Charleston here and a Stony Brook there. But George Mason is as good as gone. Delaware and JMU are wondering how an upstart football program like ODU leapfrogged them into the big-time (complete with even bigger-time financial challenges - the way too underplayed story within the story), and likely inclined to take the call when the MAC is on the other end of the line. Even lowly Towson, now helmed by a hard-charging brand builder like Mike Waddell, must hear Destiny's sexy whispers. It's a matter of time, my friends.
Not that long ago, I'd have raged wildly at the almighty dollar's unfeeling rampage through the natural order of college athletics. Today, though, that naive wistfulness is replaced by resignation to the way things really work. Let's be clear - I think ODU is making a massive mistake. I think Georgia State is probably making a lesser error, though I really don't care that much. And as much as it pains me to say, I think that VCU made the right call, given the circumstances: they'll never be as marketable as they are right now, and they aren't encumbered by football dreams. Even if Shaka Smart leaves in two years (and I'm with those who think he's the exception that proves the rule, destined to stay in Richmond for some time), the Rams have parlayed a once-in-generation hire into a nicer house with better neighbors, on the whole.
Now that the dust is settling a bit, William and Mary's passivity will be examined more critically. One interpretation of my alma mater's positioning says that W&M is secretly happy to see the CAA implode, as it offers the Tribe an easy way path to a more academically aligned partnership with the Patriot League, and a way to credibly reduce athletic funding while still maintaining competitive programs. The proverbial other hand believes that Terry Driscoll had both no juice and no plan, and that W&M is left foundering in a league that will be an unholy mishmash of misaligned institutions, at best.
The other hand is a more plausible story, in my mind, but I think there's a real possibility that W&M climbs out of this pile of shit smelling like roses. I'd be happier at this point with the Tribe as members of the Patriot League, whether or not they planned it, and the CAA's demise gives W&M cover with alums who might otherwise be upset - most of us would damn sure rather associate with Army, Navy, and Lehigh than with Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook. If the Patriot League comes calling (and, hi, Patriot League! Please come calling!), I think W&M accepts the charges gladly.
Left unexamined in all this is the relative importance of football versus basketball. I care way more about hoops than pigskin, and W&M's got more economic interest in successful basketball, but I'd bet that most Tribe alums, especially those who give real money, are far more worried about the future of Jimmye Laycock's program. I probably underestimate this factor in this analysis, and if W&M stays with FrankenCAA it'll be because it makes sense for the football team.
In any case, we'll head to Richmond in March (on a Saturday, as there will be no need for Friday games with only 7 teams in the CAA Tournament - thanks for ruining my hooky-playing tradition, Wood) and cheer on a Tribe team that's guaranteed to only need one win to reach the semifinals. We'll hang out with MGL, Defiantly Dutch, an irrationally engaged Northeastern fan, a passionate Drexel booster, Eric Angevine (who'd better still come, even if ODU won't be there) and the rest of our patchwork quilt of futile superfans. We'll have it better, but maybe only this last time.