Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Will the Griffin Fly the Coop?

A recent article in the Richmond Times Dispatch recounts speculation that Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University and George Mason University might take their basketball programs and leave the Colonial Athletic Association for other conferences (the Atlantic 10 for GMU and VCU, and Conference USA for ODU).  Such departures would leave only 8 basketball programs left in the league:




James Madison




William and Mary

Departures by such marque programs would obviously be a blow to the CAA's national profile and thus the ability of CAA schools to recruit highly sought-after college athletes.  GMU, VCU and ODU have won twelve of the last thirteen CAA mens basketball championships, thereby earning automatic berths in the NCAA tournament.  Both VCU and GMU have, in the past decade, made it to the "Final Four."

If in fact all or even just some of these schools depart the CAA, the remaining schools will have three options: (1) Soldier on with eight basketaball programs of relatively modest national profile; (2) invite new and hopefully higher profile schools to join the CAA or (3) depart from the CAA for other conferences.  Of course, some combination of options 2 and 3 is possible.  That is to say, some schools could depart from the CAA which could in turn invite and welcome new programs.

Both the Times-Dispatch article and a separate piece in the William and Mary Flat Hat have speculated that William and Mary could ultimately choose to depart from the CAA and join the Patriot League, for basketball.

According to the Times-Dispatch, for instance:

"If William and Mary decided to leave [the CAA for basketball], it might find a partner in the Patriot League, which features similar institutions with high academic profiles."

The Patriot League, it should be noted, consists of the following teams.





Holy Cross



As the story notes, these schools have academic profiles more similar to that of William and Mary than the teams of the CAA.  For instance, the College of the Holy Cross has a 4 year graduation rate of 87 percent, while William and Mary's is 89 percent.  By contrast, the  4 year graduation rate at Towson State is 43 percent and 23 percent at Drexel.  (Though it should be noted that these rates rise to 73 and 68 percent, respectively, after 6 years.)  (The 4 year graduation rate at VCU is 24 percent, while the 6 year rate is 50 percent.)    Moreover apparently athletes have even higher graduation rates at some Patriot League schools.  Indeed, according to this story, 21 Holy Cross teams recently achieved a 100 percent graduation rate.  At the same time, the Patriot League would provide stiff competition on the court for the Tribe.  Both Bucknell and Lehigh, for instance, ended the 2011-2012 season with higher RPI rankings (87 and 94, respectively) than ODU (107).  Holy Cross (182) and American (158) ended with higher RPI rankings than William and Mary (293).  (Colgate earned an RPI ranking of 295.)

Of course, any speculation that William and Mary will some day join the Patriot League for basketball is just that, speculation.  This author knows of no evidence that William and Mary is considering such a move.

UPDATE:  Earlier today (May 17, 2012) Old Dominion announced that it will leave the CAA for Conference USA.  ODU's announcement follows by a day VCU's announcement that it will leave the CAA for the Atlantic-10 conference.  By contrast, George Mason University announced less than a week ago that it will remain in the CAA.  Unlike VCU, whose move only affects basketball, ODU will be moving its football program as well, thereby allowing it to move into the FCS division, where it will reportedly begin play in 2015.

Meanwhile, two remaining members of the CAA, Towson State and UNC-Wilmington, may soon find themselves barred from post-season play because of their respective failures to satisfy NCAA academic progress requirements.