The Colonial Athletic Association is changing, make no mistake about it. The question, however, is how much change there will be. Conflicting reports have surfaced recently over who is going where in the never-ending carousel that is conference realignment, but sources tell WRBB Sports that Georgia State University will leave for the Sun Belt Conference in 2013-14 while George Mason University and Virginia Commonwealth University will remain with the CAA for the foreseeable future.
Over the past few days and weeks, there have been whispers then roars of VCU and George Mason leaving for the Atlantic 10. Those were followed by vehement denials from both athletic departments, as well as CAA commissioner Tom Yeager in a conference call on March 26. In that call, the league’s head honcho stated that there had been no conversations between any of the Colonial’s 12 members and any other conference, and that there had not been any discussions with other institutions about adding to the CAA’s roster of universities.
Just days after that call, CBS Sports reported that Georgia State University was a “leading candidate” to join the Sun Belt Conference. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, GSU Athletic Director Cheryl Levick informed Yeager of the talks after the March 26 media teleconference. Yesterday, Brett McMurphy followed up his report from last week with a statement that administrators within the Sun Belt and its schools had voted to invite the Panthers to join their ranks, though no invitation had been formally extended. The AJC’s Doug Roberson wrote on Tuesday that, according to Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson, such a vote had not taken place and that a previously scheduled trip to GSU’s Atlanta campus on Thursday had been postponed. It was expected that the formal invitation would be offered at that time. An earlier article from McMurphy is what heated up the talks of VCU and George Mason leaving for the Atlantic 10, along with current Horizon League member Butler.
If Georgia State does leave in 2013 as one source reported, it would mean the school’s football team will compete in the CAA for just one season before jumping. Regardless of the timing of the invitation and departure, it seems as though it is simply a matter of when rather than if.
According to conference bylaws, and confirmed by Yeager in the March 26 call, any school that has announced that it is leaving the league will not be eligible for the conference’s playoffs the preceding year. Since it is a new program, GSU would also be ineligible to compete for a Sun Belt championship and would be ineligible to play in a bowl game during the 2013 season.
They would also not be allowed to participate in the 2013 CAA basketball tournament, which could feature only nine teams with possible NCAA sanctions coming against UNCW and Towson due to issues with the Academic Progress Rate.
What isn’t clear is how much Georgia State will have to pay in order to get out of the CAA. For years, the conference’s exit fee has been set at $250,000. Recently, there have been increased talks of upping that fee to seven figures, in the range of $1 million to $1.5 million. That number would be comparable to the $1 million that Temple University is expected to pay the Atlantic 10 when it leaves for the Big East, in addition to the $6 million that the school will pay the Mid-American Conference, where Temple football had been competing since 2007. If Georgia State receives its invitation this week, before next week’s expected vote to increase the exit fee, they could save upwards of $1 million by announcing its exit early. Some sources say there will be a vote in the early half of next week, while others confirmed discussion but denied that a vote was actually scheduled.
Multiple sources have said that the idea of increasing the fee is not a new one, as administrators from at least one of the major Virginia schools have been spearheading the effort for a year or more. The move reportedly has overwhelming support among conference athletic directors and presidents, and while not unanimous it should easily pass. Between that information and the fact that the CAA will be doling out its annual checks from the NCAA that are especially large as a result of the conference’s success, including VCU’s Final Four run, in the 2011 national tournament, it seems unlikely that VCU or GMU would leave. One source also said he was told that Butler would be the only addition to the Atlantic 10, replacing Temple, and that neither VCU nor George Mason would be leaving the CAA anytime soon. A source also cited the conference’s Virginia base, with five members from the state and the basketball tournament being held in Richmond, as additional reasons that both schools would stay.
Once Georgia State leaves, the Colonial Athletic Association will be left with 11 full-membership schools. Only five of those remaining members sponsor a football team, including Delaware, James Madison, Old Dominion, Towson, and William & Mary. There are an additional five associate members in CAA Football, including Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Richmond, and Villanova. However, Rhode Island will be dropping down to the reduced-scholarship Northeast Conference and will leave the CAA with nine football teams. From a scheduling perspective, that would allow each team to play every other team once during the season and play three non-conference games for an 11-game slate.
On the basketball side, things are a little bit more complicated. It is unclear whether or not the conference would look to add another university to replace Georgia State or if it would sit on an odd number of members. Though the current membership consists of both public and private schools, large and small, and geographically ranges from Boston to Wilmington, N.C. once GSU leaves, finding a strong fit could still prove difficult. Presidents and athletic directors would need to find a school that philosophically matches the ideals of the 11 remaining universities, both academically and athletically. Among others, some names that have been bandied about include Boston University, University of Rhode Island, Stony Brook University, Fordham University, George Washington University, University of Richmond, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, College of Charleston, and Coastal Carolina. For various reasons, some more obvious than others, many of these schools have been dismissed as unlikely to leave their current affiliations for Colonial membership or to be accepted by CAA institutions. One source fully expects that UNC Charlotte will eventually join Georgia State in the Sun Belt, as the 49ers have plans to field a football program beginning in the 2013 season.
There are still many questions left to be answered, and additional sources have been contacted for more information. Others have declined comment. As more information becomes available, it will be posted on wrbbsports.com. For up-to-the-minute information, follow @CAA_FCP and @wrbbsports on Twitter.