Expansion on the Agenda at Today’s CAA Meetings
The CAA will be taking some collective steps at replacing their decreasing membership numbers with their CAA meetings today.
Not much has changed in terms of the candidate pool since we last addressed CAA expansion.
The CAA is at a bit of a crossroads in determining the shape of it’s conference for the future. When the CAA added Northeastern over a number of other potential candidates, and stretched their footprint from Wilmington, NC (and then Atlanta, GA) to Boston, MA, it was clear that FCS football was their top priority. The CAA needed 6 all-sports members that sponsored football in order to claim sponsorship of the conference. But taking control of the FCS football conference comprised of CAA, A10, America East and Big East members wasn’t the only goal. In having true sponsorship (6 all-sport members), the CAA gained additional advantages in the form of an NCAA vote. Other conferences like the Missouri Valley Football Conference might have the same name as the MVC conference known for basketball, with only 5 members, they do not have the same voting rights as conferences like the CAA, Big Sky.
So better basketball programs like Boston University were passed over for Northeastern.
And since then, the CAA has completely changed.
Northeastern and Hofstra, two all-sports members have dropped football.
UMass, a football member of the CAA, has upgraded to FBS and joined the MAC.
Rhode Island, another football member, has moved from the CAA to the NEC.
And most recently, the CAA has lost football members Old Dominion to CUSA and Georgia St. to the Sun Belt.
The result is the CAA now at 9 total members: 4 with football (Delaware, Towson, JMU, William & Mary) and 5 without football…falling (2) football schools short of the required 6 members.
But it’s the basketball product that now seems to be effected the most. VCU just reached the NCAA Final Four in 2011, putting the CAA basketball conference back into the minds of many following a similar Final Four appearance by CAA member George Mason. And now VCU is headed to the A10, joining in just a few more weeks. Old Dominion has been a rock for the CAA and their departure from the CAA is another tremendous blow. Georgia St. might not have had the same level of success as VCU and ODU, but they take with them from the CAA, the conferences exposure in the Atlanta market.
And so the CAA is at a crossroads:
Do they put the basketball product first and bring in the best possible replacement schools for VCU, ODU and Georgia St.? Or do they bring in the required 2 football members for all-sports to maintain football sponsorship? Because the two strategies will provide (2) different outcomes.
On one side you have basketball. It’s the driving sport for the CAA and virtually all non-FBS football conferences.
You have some solid basketball programs that could help stabilize the basketball product. For instance, College of Charleston might consider the CAA, if it were devoted to basketball. Same goes for Davidson. With the football priority, neither school would be expected to give the CAA too much consideration. And why would they? Why leave a conveniently located regional conference with football members such as Appalachian St., Furman, Georgia Southern, etc, for one that stretches all the way to Boston? Because the Southern Conference faces similar uncertainly about it’s future. Both Appalachian St. and Georgia Southern are flight risks to upgrade to FBS. And that would mean the SoCon would be forced to look to the Big South for replacements.
Beyond Charleston and Davidson, you also have schools such as Boston University. In adding BU, the CAA would add a travel partner for Northeastern, making those Virginia to Boston road trips, more budget friendly: travel to Boston to play Northeastern and get two games while on one trip.
So with a pure basketball rebuilding plan, you would have:
William & Mary
But of course, that means CAA Football would only have 4 members from the CAA, with a total of 7 members with Maine, UNH, Villanova, Richmond. Football only members such as Stony Brook (Big South) could be brought in for #9.
But while the fear of future football departures such as Delaware and JMU to FBS will be on people’s minds, many in the CAA still feel that football should be a priority.
And that’s why we still hear names as CAA expansion candidates that bring football as a top priority.
Appalachian St. and Georgia Southern are the top candidates for obvious reasons: they are two of the most successful FBS programs. But both have their eyes on FBS and would be unlikely to move to the CAA if invited.
Then you have the next group of options…and perhaps the most likely: Stony Brook , Elon and Coastal Carolina.
Make no mistake: Stony Brook’s College World Series run only improves their appeal. At this point, they are a near lock to join the CAA.
Stony Brook brings a travel partner for Hofstra, making those Long Island trips for CAA members a 2 for 1 trip for each sport. It’s also further penetration into the New York City market.
Coastal Carolina brings some smiles to those at UNCW, who have long sought a nearby conference mate. The Myrtle Beach school would fit in nicely into the current footprint.
Elon makes the list due to their location in the south, academics and of course, since they sponsor football.
But while Stony Brook has had recent basketball success and makes for a strong all-sports member, Coastal Carolina is a bit less impacting as a basketball addition. Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina would give the CAA (6) all-sports members, allowing them to keep full football sponsorship. And with JMU and Delaware wanting football programs to join, it seems to many that Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina are locks to join the CAA.
After adding Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina or Elon to preserve football, there is then some flexibility in adding a 12th member that does not have football. But can the CAA convince either Charleston or Davidson to join, leaving the other in the SoCon? Perhaps not. And then you have Boston University back on the list.
What will come out of the meetings, what the final expansion plans are is yet to be known. But you’ve got two parties in the CAA: those who put basketball first: the (5) without football in Northeastern, Hofstra, Drexel, George Mason and UNCW. And then there are the (4) football members: Delaware, Towson, William & Mary and JMU.
Simple math would let one believe that with the voting majority, that the path would be set: 5 basketball schools would pressure the CAA to invite (3) basketball schools as replacements such as Charleston, Davidson and Boston University. Meanwhile, the (4) football schools would push for Stony Brook, Coastal Carolina, and a 12th school, likely from the south, such as Charleston.
But as we’ve seen in other conferences, expansion is about compromise.
And that’s why it would not be a shock to see the (5) non-football schools show support for two football additions such as Stony Brook and Coastal Carolina. Drexel, NU and Hofstra would get a new basketball member in nearby Long Island via Stony Brook. UNCW would get their partner in Coastal Carolina. And perhaps even Boston University would sneak in as #12, due to the majority votes by schools in the north such as NU, Hofstra, and Drexel.
And then again, perhaps these same schools would vote the other way to try to keep their local rivals OUT of the CAA.
Conference realignment can be logical. But it can also be caddy. We’ll have to wait to see which label best fits the CAA members.