Last week the Southern Conference made an announcement that had been rumored for weeks: Davidson has rejected the Colonial Athletic Association’s invitation to join and will remain in the Southern Conference. While some may be surprised at Davidson’s decision to remain in a less highly-rated conference, the decision actually makes sense for a number of reasons.
First, although the CAA is a higher rated basketball conference (14th in last year’s RPI compared to the Southern Conference’s 23rd), moving to the conference wouldn’t have necessarily benefitted Davidson’s basketball program. It could have actually harmed the program.
Davidson’s men’s basketball team is currently the cream of the crop in the Southern Conference. This would not be the case in the CAA. Although the CAA has recently received multiple tournament bids, it is usually a one bid conference like the Southern. In moving to the CAA, Davidson would be moving to a tougher one bid conference, thereby harming its chances of making the NCAA tournament on a regular basis as it recently has done as a member of the Southern Conference.
Second, I doubt Davidson would realize much, if any, financial benefit from moving to the CAA. Although the CAA did recently sign a television deal with NBC Sports Network that will increase the conference’s national exposure ( NBCSN will carry 18 CAA men’s basketball games nationally this season), the CAA members receive no money from the deal. NBCSN pays for the members’ production costs. That’s it. And there is no guarantee that any of Davidson’s games would actually be selected for a national broadcast. NBCSN did not select one of my alma mater’s games for a national broadcast this year.
It is true that the CAA has recently received much larger payouts from the NCAA’s Basketball Distribution Fund than the Southern ($3,355,296 versus $2,156,976 for the 2010-2011 season). However, most of the CAA’s larger payout has been a result of VCU’s recent NCAA tournament successes. With VCU now gone to the Atlantic 10 and Old Dominion leaving the CAA next year for Conference USA, the CAA is losing two of its basketball programs most likely to experience deep tournament runs. As a result, the Basketball Fund payouts for the CAA and the Southern will likely be much closer in the future.
Lastly, Davidson is just different than most other Division I members. It is content with its current position in the college sports pecking order. There is nothing wrong with that.
Despite Davidson’s rejection, the CAA didn’t leave its foray into the Southern Conference empty handed. On Friday, the College of Charleston’s board of trustees gave the school’s president authority to negotiate Charleston’s entrance into the CAA. Charleston’s president cited a number of reasons for being in favor of the move: stronger conference opponents, increased opportunities for at-large bids to NCAA tournaments, the ability to recruit better student-athletes, stronger academic support for student-athletes, alumni living outside South Carolina will now have access to Charleston games, and access to the resources of the Colonial Academic Alliance, which promotes undergraduate research, study abroad opportunities, and faculty and staff professional development. It’s obvious from this list that Charleston is looking to enhance its athletic and academic programs in making the move.
So, with Charleston in the fold where does the CAA go from here? Look for at least one other Southern Conference member to join Charleston in the CAA at some point. Rumors have focused on UNC-Greensboro, Elon, and Furman. Whatever happens, don’t expect the CAA to retain whatever membership configuration it ends up with for long. There are only 4 teams remaining from what was the CAA when I graduated in 2001.
On a side note, if there would have been fewer defections since then, along with a few additions, the CAA would be even better basketball-wise than it recently has been. Check out this hypothetical conference line-up: Richmond (left after 2000-2001 season), VCU (left after 2011-2012 season), Old Dominion (leaving after 2012-2013 season), East Carolina (left after 2000-2001 season), George Mason, Drexel, Delaware, William and Mary, UNC-Wilmington, James Madison, Northeastern, and Charleston. That conference would compare favorably to any other mid-major basketball conference in the nation.