Despite a turbulent week that created an uncertain future, William and Mary remains committed to the Colonial Athletic Association, and athletic director Terry Driscoll believes that the league will survive.
Driscoll acknowledged that the CAA absorbed a major hit this week with the departures of Old Dominion and VCU, but he said that the conference remains a good fit for the Tribe and its broad-based athletic program.
"We've been in the CAA for the last 27 years and it's been a really good avenue for us," he said, "in terms of competing for conference championships and trying to get into NCAA tournaments. There's been a lot of transition, and we're still going forward the way we go forward, trying to make the CAA a great avenue for our teams to get to the NCAAs."
The departures of VCU and ODU, as well as Georgia State, leave the league with nine competing members. VCU will join the Atlantic 10 this summer, while ODU and Georgia State depart after the 2012-13 season, for Conference USA and the Sun Belt, respectively.
The current spate of conference realignment hasn't prompted Driscoll to re-evaluate William and Mary's place, nor would it, he said, unless the CAA dramatically changed its course, or W&M suddenly fell behind competitively.
"If we can no longer offer the opportunity to our student-athletes to compete for conference championships or be in the mix every year, that I think would be the tipping point," Driscoll said. "We're supposed to be a broad-based program and the broad-based success of our program is important.
"When people ask how we do, I say, 'pretty well.' Not every team, every year, but despite being a bit of an outlier, we've had pretty broad athletic success. My concern would be if, for a period of time, that it appeared across the board that we were no longer going to be able to compete, that would be when the institution would have to find a place where we could recreate that experience and balance academic and athletic components."
A charter member of the CAA, William and Mary has won more conference titles (104) than any league school, far ahead of runner-up James Madison (68).
Driscoll expects to continue competing against VCU and Old Dominion in most sports, just not as frequently.
CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said this week that expansion is priority one, but with open and honest dialogue among all the members and potential targeted schools.
"We're going to move quickly, but probably as judiciously as we can," Driscoll said. "There's no panic. It's more, if we're going to do this, let's do it right and make sure we get it right, so whatever we come out with, we're going to be able to say that this feels good."
Driscoll also said that he isn't inclined to vote to change conference bylaws to allow departing members to compete for championships, which would affect ODU and Georgia State. ODU officials this week expressed hope that the CAA would permit its teams to compete for titles and plan to lobby league schools.
"In my opinion," Driscoll said, Old Dominion's "decision was made with full understanding of exit fees, bylaws and all the associated stipulations of the bylaws when someone is coming into the conference and when someone is leaving. For me, it's like any contractual agreement. There are guidelines in the contract as to how you're going to proceed as a member, and if there's going to be a conclusion or end to the arrangement, there are certain stipulations as to how it ends."
JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne and UNC Wilmington AD Jimmy Bass already have said that they're not in favor of changing the bylaws, either. A change requires a two-thirds majority vote by league presidents.
Reminded that if ODU and Georgia State are ineligible to compete, next year's men's basketball tournament, the league's signature event, could be mighty thin. VCU would be gone, and Towson and UNC Wilmington face Academic Progress Rate issues that would bar them from the NCAA tournament, thus leaving just seven schools.
"We had to do it with six one year, so it wouldn't be the smallest number we've had," Driscoll said, then chuckled. "For those of us remaining, it certainly helps our chances."
Indeed, the 2001 CAA tournament included just six teams, since league members barred Richmond, East Carolina and American from competing. All three had announced plans to join other leagues the previous year, prompting the current bylaw that prohibits lame-duck members from competing.
Driscoll said that he and his mates cannot control external forces or decisions, "but if this is what it's going to be, and we're going to have an opportunity to compete for the conference championship as one of seven rather than one of 12, then mathematically we have a better opportunity. It doesn't mean we win anything, but we have a better opportunity to reach the NCAAs, which is our goal."
Though CAA basketball is diminished with the departures of VCU and Old Dominion, Driscoll doesn't believe it's a death sentence for the conference.
"Realistically, we were a one-bid league up until the last few years," he said. "There was a concerted effort by some of the schools to boost basketball. VCU has become a much better program in the past 4-5 years. Old Dominion has been much better consistently since Blaine Taylor has been there. Mason has been pretty competitive, and Drexel has been there.
"I can't say that we would jump right back into being a multi-bid league, but we did it before. There's no reason that with schools investing and getting better at basketball, why we may not be able to do it again."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times