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Yeager expects CAA realignment, expansion in next couple of weeks
Expect the Colonial Athletic Association to unveil its new look in the coming weeks, commissioner Tom Yeager said, as he and his conference mates enjoy a blessedly private respite from the public anguish and upheaval of the previous couple of months.
“We’re making progress,” Yeager said. “But at this time of year, you’re working around other people’s schedules, with things like graduations and vacations. It slows some things down, but everyone still understands how important it is.”
Yeager, as expected, wouldn’t bite on specifics of membership discussion or possible candidates. He wouldn’t even get into the north-south or basketball-football dynamics of an all-sports conference that, for one more year, stretches from Boston to Atlanta, and a football league that extends from Maine to Atlanta.
“We’ve told people all along that we’re not trying to establish any artificial deadlines,” Yeager said. “You want to have everybody ask and answer all the questions. We’re all agreed that at the end of this thing, we want everyone to make a decision that they’re comfortable with and put it behind them and move forward.”
The departures of VCU, Old Dominion and Georgia State leave the CAA with nine all-sports members. The football league is down to seven schools, with ODU, Georgia State and Rhode Island headed elsewhere.
Though the CAA figures to absorb schools both north and south of its mid-Atlantic base in attempts to shore up both marquee sports, Yeager said that the primary criteria for expansion candidates is “institutional fit.”
“We’re all different in a lot of ways, but we have a lot of institutional similarities, as well,” he said.
He talked in general terms about bringing in schools that will suddenly become part of a different geographic footprint than that to which they’re accustomed (Southern Conference? Big South? America East?).
There are academic components, he said, as well as competitive factors, in areas of talent, track record and facilities.
“These are schools that want to compete, that want to be successful,” he said. “They want to be able to match the resources and some of the bells and whistles that the schools they’ll be competing against have. They don’t want to be just another body on the schedule.”
The biggest surprise in the present realignment frenzy, Yeager said, is the secrecy and subterfuge of movement among the principles, whether it’s between conferences or between institutions and conferences.
“That’s been disappointing,” he said. “I was at the conference commissioners’ meetings a couple weeks ago and there was almost universal surprise at the lack of candor among partners. That’s why I vowed to be open with everybody — schools and other leagues. I told people all along, I’m going to give you the good, the bad and the ugly, because I didn’t want anyone feeling like they weren’t dealt with openly.”
The CAA underwent a major makeover in 2000, as well, after Richmond, East Carolina and American departed for various leagues and reasons, leaving the conference with only six teams. The CAA moved quickly and added Towson, Delaware, Drexel and Hofstra, then eventually added Northeastern in 2005 and Georgia State in ‘06.
Like then, the CAA endured forecasts of its demise. Though this time, the Internet and the proliferation of social media often turned that into a steady drumbeat.
“Back then, we had about five media members paying attention,” Yeager said. “Now, stories and rumors and opinions kind of take on a life of their own.”
Unlike 2000, the CAA’s profile now is significantly greater and its footprint far broader than the cozy, Virginia-based bus league of the 1980s and ’90s, thanks in part to two NCAA Final Four runs and the success of the league’s FCS football programs.
“We’re in a much better position to deal with it now than we were,” Yeager said.
Yeager also said that the 2013 men’s basketball tournament remains unsettled. Right now, there appear to be only seven teams eligible.
VCU already has departed for the Atlantic 10, and Old Dominion and Georgia State aren’t eligible as lame-duck members, per conference rules. ODU is headed to Conference USA in the summer of 2013, while Georgia State will go to the Sun Belt. UNC Wilmington and Towson are ineligible for the NCAA tournament because of Academic Progress Rate (APR) penalties, so the league won’t permit them to compete for the title.
Yeager said that the conference is still contractually obligated to the Richmond Coliseum, but without draws such as VCU and ODU, the league is talking to city officials, as well as a couple of other municipalities about a tournament site.
“Everything is under review at this point,” he said. “Everything.”
By Dave Fairbank, Daily Press