A Look at CAA Realignment
In recent weeks, we’ve seen all sorts of CAA realignment action hitting the public. But maybe “action” is too strong a word as it’s been more of a political spin game. First we had news that Georgia St. was on the Sun Belt radar…which then turned into “the Sun Belt had agreed to a vote on a Sun Belt invitation to Georgia St. in which it’s members were expected to approve the vote and that Georgia St. was expected to accept”. With Georgia St. looking to upgrade to FBS football, and needing an existing FBS conference to extend them an invitation for that to happen, the Sun Belt is a logical move (since Georgia St.’s, top destination, CUSA, seems to have other plans).
On the other side of the CAA conference, the basketball-only members, you have some more potential movement.
Both George Mason and VCU are rumored to be in contact with the A-10 about joining. The likely scenario would be Butler invited to replace Temple as the 14th member, with GMU and VCU joining as the 15th and 16th member.
The rationale is simple: with Temple leaving the A10, Philadelphia is no longer the lodestone of the conference. To replace the success of Temple, the A10 needs a star, and Butler, making it to back to back finals until this year, fits the mold. The Indianapolis based school would also serve as a regional bridge to connect St. Louis with schools like Xavier and Dayton, in addition to adding a new market to the A10.
As for the benefits of GMU and VCU for the A10, the rationale is just as simple: with Richmond and George Washington already in the A10, adding GMU and VCU would solidify the DC/VA area as an A10 power base. GMU and VCU bring recent Final Four appearances, but it’s their ability to lock up the region as an A10 stronghold that bring even more benefits.
For GMU and VCU, a move to the A10 makes sense.
As it is now, it’s no lock in a given year that a CAA school that does not win the conference tournament, will get an NCAA at-large bid. We saw it again this year as #1 Drexel lost in the conference tournament, and was left out, sent to the NIT. Outside of GMU and VCU, only Old Dominion has been able to secure an at-large bid in recent years, at the peak of the CAA’s success. In the A10, in years in which GMU or VCU finish 2nd, 3rd, or even 4th in the A10 with a strong OOC schedule, they will
likely get an NCAA at-large bid. In the CAA, they have to win the CAA tournament.
For years it appeared that members such as GMU and VCU would be more content to stand put. But as the CAA has clearly defined itself as an FCS Football conference first, and a basketball conference second, despite all the success by non-football schools, one can see why GMU and VCU would have roaming eyes.
When the CAA last expanded, they invited Northeastern. The Boston school had lower ranked academics than many other candidates, worse resources and facilities than other candidates and less overall basketball success than even it’s neighbor, Boston University. But since Northeastern had football, and the CAA needed a 6th football member to join for all-sports in order to take over football sponsorship, Northeastern was selected. Fast forward and Northeastern and another school brought in right before Northeastern, Hofstra, have dropped football.
With Georgia St. as a threat to leave, the CAA is already looking at replacement schools. And at the top of the list, you aren’t going to see basketball powerhouses to improve the sport that GMU and VCU have been successful in. You’ll hear Appalachian St. as a target, a powerful FCS football school in North Carolina that has had less success in basketball. You’ll hear Stony Brook, the Long Island school from the America East. Stony Brook has had some success in basketball while in the lower ranked America East. But it’s their sponsorship of football that put them on the list. So to replace the Georgia St. loss (if/when it happens), it WILL be a football school selected…a move that does little to help schools like GMU and VCU.
For GMU and VCU, and even Georgia St., there are other internal CAA issues going on.
As news came out that GMU and VCU were considered A10 options, both schools have officially said they have had no conversions with the A10. And the A10 has said that they have had no conversations with either school. Then how has so much news made it out? Is it all made up? No. The source of some of the updates comes from some of the more reputable journalists in college sports. It’s because the A10 and the 2 schools were using a third party for their discussions. Such a process allows the A10, GMU and VCU all to claim that they have had no contact with each other, since contact can be defined as “direct contact”.
And when news broke about Georgia St. appearing to be heading to the Sun Belt, you had similar denials.
So we know Georgia St. needs an FBS conference invitation in order to upgrade to FBS, a goal of the school.
So why not show some excitement?
And if we know that GMU and VCU have had some level of contact with the A10, why the denials?
The answer is money.
The CAA will be distributing it’s NCAA revenue shares in July. If the schools planned on leaving early, they risk forfeiting that money.
And then there are the exit fee discussions.
The CAA is expected to discuss increasing the conference exit fees. It’s likely too late for any school to bluff their way through that process though. But if you have schools expected to leave, it makes the exit fee punishment more of an issue.
But the CAA exit fee discussions will be an interesting process. You have Georgia St. with one foot out the door. You have GMU and VCU as potentially looking to do the same, to move to the A-10. So you could look at a future exit fee vote, one that requires a 2/3 majority, and think that if there are 12 schools and only 3 potentially leaving, then a 9-3 vote would hurt Georgia St., GMU and VCU only.
But it’s no lock that the vote would be 9-3.
Georgia St.’s eventual defection from the CAA will mark the 5th football defection from CAA Football. You have Hofstra and Northeastern, all-sports members, that have dropped the sport. You have football-only members, Rhode Island, leaving for NEC football and UMass, who upgraded to FBS and joined the MAC. And with Georgia St. all but gone, it’s been a mass defection.
So what does that mean for the remaining CAA football schools?
You have Villanova, another football-only member, who has explored upgrading to FBS and joining the Big East. In fact, as part of them supporting the Temple all-sport addition into the Big East, the Big East agreed to give Villanova $3 million for their “upgrade exploration”.
And then you have the two power schools of CAA football: Delaware and JMU. Both schools have been the model for FCS football success, both on the field as well as in ticket sales and fan interest. Both schools have for years been considered logical FBS upgrade candidates as both already have the necessary infrastructure. And then there is ODU. Upon even starting their football program in recent years, they made it clear (likely to keep the fan support high) that they have FBS aspirations. Even schools like Hofstra have high hopes that one day the A-10 would invite them, especially with the new A-10 deal with the Barclay’s Center to host the conference basketball tournament in Brooklyn.
So, if you are all-sports CAA members Delaware, JMU, ODU or even Hofstra, why would you support a higher exit fee when you might have to pay it yourself? And if you’re a CAA Football member like Villanova, why would you support any potential changes to the CAA Football membership exit fees for that side of the conference (CAA Football is technically a separate conference from the primary CAA since all football members have equal voting rights)?
You likely wouldn’t.
Now on the football side, the biggest hangup when it comes to FCS to FBS upgrades, is again an NCAA rule stating that a school must have an invitation from an existing FBS conference in order to be permitted to upgrade to FBS.
If CUSA hadn’t put so much into an alliance or merger with the Mountain West conference, perhaps there would be some more room in a more eastern conference such as CUSA. If not CUSA, then the Sun Belt, assuming that CUSA added 4 replacement members from the Sun Belt. But as it appears now, CUSA and the MWC will have some sort of merger, with perhaps 4 schools added: Utah St., San Jose St. to the MWC side and FIU and North Texas to the CUSA side. The Sun Belt appears poised to add Georgia St. After that addition, Charlotte, UTSA and LA Tech would likely be the top candidates to join the Sun Belt. In the end, you’d have CUSA/MWC with 10 and 10 members for a total of 20 for football, and the Sun Belt would have 12 for football, 13 for other sports with UALR.
So if you’re Delaware, JMU or ODU, you have very few options in FBS. Which means these schools might favor a CAA exit fee raise.
However, there remains another option for those schools, albeit a long shot.
The MAC has just lost Temple, and now has 13 members with UMass. Per the UMass & MAC contract, the MAC can ask UMass to leave after 2 seasons if Temple were to leave. Since Temple did leave, that option is still on the table. But the MAC could also do something bold and extend further east and to the south with expansion to 16. With UMass as #13, the MAC could bring in Delaware, JMU and ODU for a total fo 16 members for football, splitting into (2) divisions of 8 schools. An eastern division could include: UMass, Buffalo, Delaware, ODU, JMU, Ohio, Akron, Kent St. Of course, potential FBS upgrades from the SoCon such as Appalachian St. and Georgia Southern could make this an even longer shot.
Again, this is a long shot.
So what can we expect to see from the CAA?
* Georgia St. leaves: CAA will likely first reach out to Appalachian State. If rejected, the CAA will turn to Stony Brook to replace Georgia St. as an all-sports member.
* If VCU or GMU join the A10: assuming Appalachian St. is out of the mix, and Stony Brook already in for Georgia St., then the CAA can use the departures as a way to strengthen their northern presence. Boston University can be brought in to serve as a travel partner for Northeastern, making those long trips for the southern schools to Boston more worthwhile by scheduling 2 games per trip north. The same benefit exists for trips to Hofstra, should Stony Brook be brought in.
* If Georgia St., VCU and GMU all leave: and assuming Appalachian St. is out of the mix, you’ve got Stony Brook and Boston University likely in. But there would still be the need for a 3rd replacement. That pool will be less attractive as candidates would be from a mix of schools such as:
- Albany (could potentially upgrade to play CAA Football)
- Coastal Carolina
- Hartford (to bridge Hofstra and Stonybrook to Boston University and Northeastern)
- College of Charleston (twice rejected CAA invitations, likely would do the same with GA St., VCU and GMU gone)
- Youngstown St. (football-only long shot candidate)
- UMBC (bit of a desperation candidate, but local nonetheless)
- Maine & UNH (a tandem, both are part of CAA Football..with Northeastern and Boston University in the mix, the pair is an option. The pair would fall into the “desperation candidate” pool, but in bringing both schools in with Stony Brook as the 3 replacements, the CAA would be at 12 total members, with 8 all-sports members sponsoring football in CAA Football).
Oddly, of the scenarios, it’s the one that most CAA fans would detest the most that would create the most stability, factoring in football playing members and regional fits:
CAA North: *Maine, *UNH, Northeastern, *Stonybrook, Hofstra, Drexel
CAA South: * Delaware, *Towson, *JMU, *ODU, *W&M, UNCW
Best case scenario?
CAA North: Northeastern, *Stonybrook, Hofstra, Drexel, *Delaware, *Towson
CAA South: *JMU, *ODU, *W&M, *Appalachian St., UNCW, *Georgia Southern
Still looking good:
CAA North: Northeastern, *Boston University, *Stonybrook, Hofstra, Drexel, *Delaware,
CAA South: *Towson, *JMU, *ODU, *W&M, *Appalachian St., UNCW,
CAA North: Northeastern, *Boston University, *Stonybrook, Hofstra, Drexel, *Delaware,
CAA South: *Towson, *JMU, *ODU, *W&M, UNCW, *Coastal Carolina/UNCG/CofC or any other school the CAA can get for the #3 replacement spot
And what if Georgia St., VCU and GMU leave but in the near future Delaware, JMU and ODU do as well for FBS? Well, that opens up many new options.
Likely, these 3 schools would join the MAC for football. But they’d need a basketball home. At this point, the CAA could just remain with it’s current members and drop football sponsorship. Remaining football members Richmond, William & Mary, and Towson could join the Patriot League. There is also the option, if Stony Brook remained in the America East (or returned) and Albany upgraded, that the America East could sponsor football. You’ve have Maine, UNH, Stony Brook and Albany from the America East. Others such as C. Connecticut St., URI, Bryant and others as football-only options.
But for the CAA, now without football, you’d have:
Northeastern, Boston University, Hofstra, Drexel, Delaware, Towson, JMU, ODU, W&M, UNCW
No schools have officially left, and anything can happen. But things in the CAA are a bit tense right now, where a conference that in recent years sent 2 schools to the Final Four as a mid-major, is facing some potential radical changes.