When George Mason unexpectedly announced Friday that it will remain in the CAA rather than pursuing a spot in the Atlantic 10, it didn't take long for the natural follow-up question to be raised.
How does this impact Old Dominion and VCU?
The trio of CAA powers have each been looking into leaving the league, with the Monarchs pondering an offer from Conference USA and the Rams and Patriots considering a move to the Atlantic 10. George Mason's return to the CAA would seem to make it more palatable for both VCU and ODU to follow suit, but the allure of the Atlantic 10 for the Rams still may be too tempting an opportunity to pass up.
If VCU takes soon-to-depart Charlotte's place in the Atlantic 10 to get the conference to 14 members, it's a step up in class and competition similar to the one Butler made by leaving the Horizon League.
[Roundtable: Decision by George Mason, Ivy League draw mixed reviews]
Whereas the Atlantic 10 has annually earned three or four NCAA tournament bids, the CAA has received only four at-large bids since 2000. The CAA is definitely on the upswing as a result of increased league-wide financial commitment to basketball, yet its 2012 champ Drexel missed the NCAA tournament despite a 16-2 conference record.
A potential move to the Atlantic 10 for VCU is not without drawbacks, however. There's the threat of the Big East basketball schools starting their own league and luring Xavier and Dayton to join them. There's the $5 million payout VCU would be giving up over the next five years by leaving the CAA before reaping the full windfall of its 2011 Final Four appearance. And there's the fact the Rams would be effectively extinguishing longstanding rivalries with ODU and George Mason to make this move.
What George Mason's announcement does for VCU is make it less risky to stay in the CAA if school officials decide the Atlantic 10 is too big a gamble. Now the Rams have the option to stay in their familiar league and help it continue to grow without the fear that they'll be the only one of the three league powers to do so.
Old Dominion's decision is more complex than VCU's due to the football aspect involved.
On the one hand, the invitation from Conference USA represents an opportunity for the Monarchs to move their new but thriving football program to the sport's top division. On the other hand, the CAA with VCU and George Mason is a stronger, more centralized and more appealing basketball league than Conference USA with Memphis, Houston and UCF all departing.
Ultimately, the opportunities in the Atlantic 10 and Conference USA remain have plenty of advantages and drawbacks for VCU and ODU. George Mason's renewed committed to the CAA only makes it easier for the Rams and Monarchs to stay put too, but it remains to be seen if that's the path either takes.
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