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JMU's Mickey Matthews: CAA Needs Two Bids
HARRISONBURG - With all signs pointing toward a 14-team, two-division alignment for the Colonial Athletic Association in the near future, the league’s coaches want the NCAA to take the unprecedented step of awarding the conference two automatic bids in the I-AA playoffs.
“I don’t really know what we’re trying to accomplish having that many teams,” James Madison coach Mickey Matthews said this week. “It puts everyone at a huge disadvantage. Given the present system, we’re just hurting ourselves.”
Starting in 2011, Old Dominion’s football team - which begins play this season - will be added to the CAA’s roster. Shortly afterward, Georgia State’s new program - under Bill Curry, a former coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky - is expected to be added.
The Colonial now splits its 12 teams into two six-team divisions. Last year, the league sent five of those teams to the 16-team I-AA playoffs.
The NCAA is expanding the playoffs to include 20 teams starting in 2010. It plans to award two more automatic bids, to the champions of the Northeast Conference and Big South, and two more at-large bids.
Those two conferences each have just six teams and have never won a I-AA national title. The CAA, meanwhile, has sent six teams to the championship game, winning three times (Massachusetts in 1998, Delaware in 2003 and JMU in 2004).
“You have a six-team league that gets one automatic and we have 14 teams and get one automatic,” Matthews said. “Tell me what’s fair about that.”
That’s part of the reason CAA coaches think an automatic playoff bid should be awarded to the champions of both the league’s North and South divisions.
Northeastern’s Rocky Hager said that, despite the league’s strong case, he’s doubtful the NCAA would agree.
“We’re deserving, absolutely,” Hager said. “Whether the NCAA would listen to what we have to say? Probably not. I’m not optimistic about it at all. I would say that there’s a chance, but not a very good one.”
The NCAA was non-committal.
“I’ve not heard of that ever happening,” said Damani Leech, coordinator of football for the NCAA. “There’s no real precedent for that happening. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask.”
Of course, the Colonial could avoid the oversized league - and the scheduling problems the 14-team scenario would create - by dropping current members.
“There’s been a lot of internal talk about the league splitting and if people want to stay together,” Matthews said. “To me, it’s obvious if you keep adding teams, you can’t keep adding teams till we have a 20-team league. Some tough decisions have to be made.”
That’s as close as any coach will come to saying publicly that the conference should boot out any current members. When the CAA wrested the football league away from the Atlantic 10 after the 2006 season, the coaches all seemed to agree that keeping the same schools together under either league banner was the priority.
But with the prospect of a cumbersome 14-team league on the horizon, that conviction could be waning.
“You know, I guess if that was the discussion and some schools were in consideration of that, I may be for that,” UMass coach Don Brown said. “We fought so hard to keep this group together. If people were forced out I would have some concerns about that. But if people were just moving on, that would be their choice.”
The likely candidate in that category could be Northeastern, whose subpar facilities have caused some to question the school’s commitment to the program.
“I’m very familiar with those facilities,” said Brown, Northeastern’s coach from 2000-03. “At some point, I just think you have to decide whether you’re committed or not committed. Let’s just put it this way, I think there should be a minimum standard that’s put in place for the conference.”
While rumors ran rampant a year ago that the Huskies would disband their team or drop down to non-scholarship, coach Rocky Hager said Northeastern has weathered that storm.
“My gut-level instinct is we’re on very solid ground,” Hager said. “After the scare that went on last October through December, our gift giving and our personal hand-downs have been greatly increased. Very positive things are occurring because of a very energetic group of alumni.”
James Madison athletic director Jeff Bourne said Tuesday he thinks a 14-team conference would be “workable” and does not consider dropping any of the league’s current members as an option.
“It wouldn’t be in my mind,” Bourne said by phone from Dallas, where he was speaking at a conference on intercollegiate athletics. “What I’d much prefer us do is work with those institutions. If there are some identified weaknesses, we work on getting those corrected.”
The league also could look at removing members that don’t participate in the CAA in other sports. That list includes some highly successful programs: Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Villanova. It also breaks sharply along geographic lines.
The CAA could separate north from south, the way it aligns its divisions. That is a configuration that Matthews, a former assistant at Georgia, thinks has some benefits.
“The best leagues are always regional leagues,” Matthews said. “That’s why the SEC is always good. I think we need to take a look at that. When I was at Georgia, we took very few plane rides.”
In the Colonial, the question of how to divide the 14 teams into divisions has not yet been answered. Old Dominion would likely join the south, pitting it against in-state foes JMU, William & Mary and Richmond.
One scenario calls for throwing geography out the window and putting Georgia State in the north. That’s because the Atlanta school is easily reached by plane and isn’t within driving distance of any of the league’s current teams.
Matthews: CAA Needs Two Bids
By Mike Barber, The Harrisonburg Daily News Record