Another school is defecting, throwing away long-standing regional relationships for a fast buck – OK, make that millions of fast bucks. And that’s why it’s inevitable that the University of Delaware also does it, sooner or later.
On Tuesday, Virginia Commonwealth University announced that it will bolt the Colonial Athletic Association for the greener pastures of the Atlantic 10 Conference. And by greener, we mean the color of all those millions of dollars.
That is a big loss for the CAA, because VCU is one of its flagship programs, highlighted by its dramatic run to the Final Four of the NCAA Basketball Tournament two years ago. The CAA still has a strong conference and Delaware is a big part of that and there’s no reason to think that VCU’s decision means the demise of the league. But it hurts.
In a conference call with reporters and in a statement released to the media at large, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager discussed VCU’s decision to leave the CAA and his upper lip was stiff the entire time.
“This morning I was informed over the phone by President Michael Rao of VCU’s decision to withdraw from the CAA, effective July 1, 2012,’’ Yeager said. “I was disappointed by the decision, but we are involved in a period of unprecedented change in collegiate athletics. There have been a lot of decisions made for all different kinds of reasons. Time will tell which ones were good.’’
Time … it will also tell whether other schools will follow the path blazed by VCU and, before that, Massachusetts, whose football program will leave the CAA next year for the Midwestern Athletic Conference, which, like the Atlantic 10, is a FBS school, as opposed to the CAA, which is a FCS school. And if you don’t know what the difference, it’s as simple as ABC and can be measured in all those dollars we talked about earlier.
That’s why Delaware is one of those schools caught in the middle. The Blue Hens are too big to be small and too small to be big. And that leaves them with a tough decision. They can be satisfied with what they have and try to excel at the mid-major level — after all, the Hens have flourished there for decades. Or, they could jump to a bigger conference in hopes of hitting bigger paydays — after all, everybody else is doing it. And that, too, is why it’s inevitable that Delaware also does it, sooner or later.
UD officials continue to say all the right things – they’re happy with their mid-major status and they’re happy with the CAA. In fact, they’re happy with everything and, at the same time, ruling out nothing.
That’s exactly what VCU did, right up to the moment it announced it was leaving the CAA and all those in-state rivalries that it had against like-minded schools such as Old Dominion, James Madison, William & Mary and George Mason.
Those kinds of rivalries are the real attractions of college sports, rivalries that are built up and get heated up over decades. Everyone knows the biggies – Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Oklahoma, Duke-North Carolina, Alabama-Auburn, Notre Dame-Southern Cal. But rivalries fuel small colleges, too, and Maine-New Hampshire has as much tradition as any of those other storied rivalries. OK, the crowds are a lot smaller and the games probably aren’t even televised, but those schools – the ones that aren’t football factories – make up the vast majority of college football and basketball, which are the only sports that matter in this.
As for VCU, this was a basketball decision, since it doesn’t have a football program, and the Atlantic 10 is a better hoops league, although not by much. And even though VCU fans are probably happy with the jump up to a bigger conference, they’ll have a hard time getting excited about playing schools like Dayton and Duquesne and Fordham and Saint Louis. Heck, most VCU fans don’t even know where Duquesne or St. Bonaventure is.
That’s the price that VCU is willing to pay in order to get bigger paydays. Bigger is better because bigger is richer. And who can resist becoming richer? Obviously, Massachusetts couldn’t and VCU couldn’t and you have to wonder how much longer Delaware can hold out.
Contact Kevin Noonan at firstname.lastname@example.org.