by Pete Medhurst

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The Colonial Athletic Association has been the envy of plenty of mid-major conferences in college basketball.

In the mid-1980’s David Robinson led Navy to unprecedented heights in men’s basketball as a member of the CAA, winning in the conference title before advancing to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament.

In the 1990’s Old Dominion University, led by Oliver Purnell and Jeff Capel, had multiple appearances in the NCAA, with guys such as Petey Sessoms and Odell Hodge.

George Mason and VCU have made the Final Four this decade. What’s not to like?

VCU left earlier this week to join the Atlantic 10 and now ODU, one of the league’s longtime leaders, has announced plans to join Conference USA. While the move is mainly an effort to engage in 1-A football for the young Monarchs program which made the 1-AA playoffs last year, the league’s basketball program will lose a big brother.

For years, Old Dominion has been a leader in men’s and women’s hoops in the CAA. The women’s team once won 122 straight games at home and made an NCAA Championship game.

ODU and the CAA seemed as synonymous as Oreo cookies and milk. You could argue it had become the flagship school of the CAA.

Old Dominion will be Bowl Eligible in the FBS in 2015.

All of the departures mean next years CAA Tournament in Richmond won’t have many party goers. In fact, only seven teams will be eligible to participate.

VCU is out immediately, while ODU and Georgia State will being kept at home because CAA by-laws state their departures make them ineligible for the conference tournament. Couple that with APR issues that will sideline UNC-Wilmington and Towson and the Richmond Coliseum will be rather empty.

The Tournament is contractually bound to Richmond until 2014. Where then in the future?

Towson Athletic Director Mike Waddell stated this week that the CAA brand needed to be refreshed and frankly, the more I thought about it, he’s right.

But where?

First Mariner Arena in Baltimore is in bad need of a makeover. If it could be done in time for March 2015, the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore is a perfect spot with many hotel options within walking distance to the event.

The tournament set attendance records this year, no doubt buoyed by VCU’s presence and popularity. What will those crowds be like in the future? Some of the early games without VCU had little to no support. Hofstra vs. Northeastern . . . not exactly a huge draw in Richmond?

Moving the tournament closer to the northern schools in the conference doesn’t guarantee that more fans from those programs will show up. But if they start winning more games, perhaps more of those fans might say ‘I can drive there’ or get a better flight into BWI from Boston or Long Island.

Don’t believe me? You can fly Southwest for $62 from BWI to Boston in 90 minutes non-stop. Boston to Richmnd, no non-stops from Boston and shortest flight 4:55 and $155.

You can certainly bring up places like the Palestra, Atlantic City has been hosting the A-10 Tournament, and frankly, in DC, most Arena’s are too big for the CAA except the Patriot Center.

The CAA has been using Showplace Arena for the women’s tournament, but I would hope the men could draw more than 5,000 for the tournament sessions.

The CAA needs to find some new blood. When the A-10 lost Temple they wasted no time acquiring Butler and VCU. The CAA almost seems unprepared for the carnage that has taken place.

Schools like Davidson, are being mentioned as a replacement. I would seek schools like Loyola, Long Island U and perhaps Stony Brook. You create natural rivals for teams like Towson and Hofstra.

People look at the success of the league with teams in the Final Four, but they fail to see why Drexel didn’t get an at-large berth in 2012. The bottom of the league has to be addressed. Towson was historically bad in 2011-12. Pat Skerry took over a roster that was scary and not ready to play in the CAA. The Tigers have some good recruits on the way, but it will still take time for those players to rise to CAA standards, even though the league has taken a major hit with ODU and VCU leaving. Georgia State was very good last year as well. UNC-Wilmington has APR issues and will basically be invisible next year, and Mo Cassara has to revive Hofstra. Two games a year against an LIU or a Stony Brook could help that. Towson heading down the street to play Loyola twice a year would add some spice to a program with a new arena coming. Some wonder how long William & Mary can hang on in the CAA.

Even Liberty, who wants to play football at worst, at a high level of 1-AA, would be worth a phone call, since the CAA is arguably the best 1-AA league in America.

A seven-team CAA Tournament could be a ticket disaster. It won’t be Richmond’s fault. They have been great hosts, but the two schools in the city who helped build the tourney in the town are both in the A-10 now.

Baltimore seems like a logical solution. Waddell is an energetic AD who can lead the way in perhaps making it happen. He needs to get together with George Mason AD Tom O’Connor and other leaders to make sure the CAA of the future is as good as its past.


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