A Tiger's Take: Towson AD Waddell weighs in on CAA

As Colonial Athletic Association honchos and members prepare for conference meetings next week, I went fishing for the athletic directors at Towson, Delaware and Hofstra to get their perspectives on what the suddenly-depleted league needs to do.

A couple reasons: Folks outside Virginia might have a different view than those here in the Commonwealth, upon whom we continually lean for comments and insight; the backgrounds of those three particular A.D.s.

Bernard Muir at Delaware, Jeff Hathaway at Hofstra and Mike Waddell at Towson all worked at Big East schools prior to coming to the CAA. If anyone knows about pillaging and realignment and membership issues, it’s the Big East.

Muir, who worked at Georgetown from 2005-09, has declined interview requests. He instead issued a statement saying that the Blue Hens are pursuing excellence and are working to solidify and strengthen the conference.

Unlike those other CAA schools that are content with mediocrity and munching like termites to tear down the league from within.

Hathaway, who worked at the University of Calhoun & Auriemma from 2003-11, doesn’t officially start at Hofstra until June 1. He was unavailable because, presumably, he is learning to navigate the Hempstead Turnpike and bouncing on the office furniture before jetting to league meetings in Hilton Head.

Waddell, bless his accessible, chatty heart, spent more than a few minutes discussing the CAA’s present and future.

“I think we can emerge from this so much better than we were before,” Waddell said. “For us to be successful, everybody is going to have to compromise a little bit and we’re going to have to think big-picture. We can’t get caught up in, is this a good basketball move, or is this a good football move? We have to consider if it’s a good conference move.”

Waddell worked five years as associate athletic director at Cincinnati before coming to Towson in Sept. 2010. He has extensive experience in marketing and broadcasting, having also worked at Akron, the U.S. Military Academy, Appalachian State, and the universities of Virginia and North Carolina.

Waddell acknowledged that the league has taken a hit with the departures of VCU, Old Dominion and Georgia State. But as it looks to replace them and perhaps expand, he wondered why the next VCU or ODU — regular NCAA tournament participants — couldn’t come from one of the remaining members, or perhaps a new member.

“The opportunities are there,” he said. “I don’t know the magic number (of conference membership) — if it’s 12 or 14 or 16. If it’s 16, I think we can do some really cool things. If it’s 16, it gives us some real flexibility and can open up some new markets. What you don’t want to do is expand too little now and not be prepared in case there’s another round of movement.”

Waddell talked about moving the basketball tournament out of Richmond. He said the new TV deal with NBCSports is a potential game-changer. He watched with great interest as the Big East was raided not once, but twice, by the ACC and Big 12 in the past decade.

“You can’t be reactive in this,” he said, “but you don’t have to be over-the-top pro-active, either. We have a great TV deal, in terms of exposure, a great national platform for what I think is the best mid-major conference in the country. I think we use that as the No. 1 carrot.”

Waddell said the CAA must look both north and south and must address basketball and football membership.

“If we’re not looking at basketball first, we’re making a mistake,” he said. “Without a doubt, basketball has to be the driving force. Now, there are exceptions to every rule. If we have a chance to add a power brand that plays other sports and opens up other markets, I think you have to look at that. But I think strong basketball has to be the priority.”

Towson is one of only four remaining CAA members that plays basketball and football. The others are Delaware, William and Mary and James Madison. That said, don’t figure them to vote in a bloc, for reasons of both geography and priority. Towson and Delaware are a bit more sensitive to the northern schools. Men’s lacrosse is a big deal at both places, unlike at W&M and JMU.

However, Waddell said that’s where compromise and collegiality can come into play as the CAA ponders replacement and expansion candidates.

“My hope is that when we get into conference rooms at Hilton Head, everybody does what’s best for the conference,” he said. “I might be only 50 percent sold on a school, but if it helps one of my conference brothers, I might be receptive to vote them in.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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