CAA worth saving, but change could be radical if VCU, Mason bolt to Atlantic 10

No conference excels at men's basketball and Championship Subdivision football like the

Colonial Athletic Association

. None. Moreover, from commissioner Tom Yeager down, the league teems with bright, engaging and honorable people.

Those are among the many reasons to hope the CAA's core members recommit to one another rather than splinter to other conferences of varying fits.


Sources are not optimistic. They fear CAA basketball pillars



George Mason

soon will bolt to the

Atlantic 10

. Those shifts, the sources suspect, would force others, such as

Old Dominion


James Madison


William and Mary

, to ponder moving.

As we've learned in the last several years, this is how realignment works. One or two conferences and schools get ambitious/greedy/bored and start trolling. Next thing you know, dominoes fall and leagues are decimated.

"This would be just another bad step in college athletics," a source said. "It's going to be a disaster. … We are just maiming ourselves. It makes no sense."

Bank on Yeager working OT to keep the family together, and not just for personal reasons. Because the CAA is worth saving.

Since 2003, conference schools have won four national football championships. Also in that span, three CAA teams were playoff runners-up.

Better yet, this isn't the work of a singular dynasty. This is a collective.

The national champions were


, James Madison,






and Delaware (twice) finished second.

Poor William and Mary. Twice the Tribe has reached the playoff final four, only to encounter a CAA rival – W&M lost to JMU in 2004 and Villanova in '09.

CAA basketball is equally collaborative. Naturally, Final Four runs by George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 are most renowned, but that's hardly the extent of the league's postseason success.

Since 1988, CAA teams have won 18

NCAA tournament

games. ODU bounced

Notre Dame

in 2010 and nearly did the same two days later to


. Ditto 1995, when the Monarchs shocked Villanova in triple-overtime before falling to



UNC Wilmington

upset Southern California in 2003, and former conference member Richmond defeated

Georgia Tech



to reach the 1988 Sweet 16. Three years later, the Spiders became the first No. 15 seed to advance, dismissing No. 2



In addition to their Final Four years, VCU and George Mason boast


conquests of


and Villanova, respectively.

The future could be get-the-sunglasses bright as well. VCU has thrived during coaching transitions from Jeff Capel to Anthony Grant to Shaka Smart. George Mason and ODU also appear built for the long haul, while


should be formidable next season at least.

In football, JMU. Delaware and New Hampshire are consistent forces, and fledgling ODU made the 2011 playoffs in only Year 3 of the program's revival.

Certainly Yeager is preaching these and other CAA virtues to the power brokers at George Mason and VCU. But what if the Patriots and Rams are convinced to join with the

Horizon League



to make the Atlantic 10 arguably college basketball's strongest conference outside the power six of the



Big East


Big Ten


Big 12


Pacific 12

and Southeastern?

The answer is, no one knows for sure. But sources outlined many possibilities.

Premature and risky though it would be, JMU, ODU and Delaware might consider forming a new, all-sports Bowl Subdivision conference with the likes of Liberty (itching to upgrade from the Big South) and

East Carolina

(tired of life in geographically disparate

Conference USA


If such a league didn't materialize — hard to imagine


shelling out for markets such as Lynchburg and Harrisonburg — ODU might angle for inclusion in the Atlantic 10, while hoping CAA football stays intact. Failing that, the Monarchs could join ECU in Conference USA, which figures to look dramatically different after impending realignments of the Western Athletic and

Mountain West


If George Mason, VCU and/or others bail, how might the CAA respond? Davidson, which reached the 2008 Elite Eight with Stephen Curry, would be one potential target.

Would William and Mary be content in a CAA that didn't include VCU, George Mason, JMU, ODU and Delaware? Would the Tribe's academic standards fit better with Patriot League schools such as Bucknell, Lehigh and Lafayette?

Here's hoping those questions never need answers, that Yeager can summon his inner Martin Brodeur and save the CAA.

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