After the Colonial Athletic Association lost its third marquee member in 10 months, and fourth school in the past year, commissioner Tom Yeager vowed that the league will remain viable and relevant.
"I do know, and have every confidence, in the schools I work with and their leadership and the commitment they have to their student-athletes," Yeager said Monday after charter member George Mason announced that it will depart for the Atlantic 10 Conference.
"Those values will persevere through all this stuff," Yeager said, "and that it's an attractive conference because of what these institutions represent and how they compete and it'll remain so."
Mason will leave the CAA and join the A-10, effective July 1, reducing the league's present membership to nine. Last May, VCU and Old Dominion departed — VCU for the Atlantic 10 immediately, and ODU for Conference USA at the conclusion of the current school year.
Georgia State announced last April that it was leaving for the Sun Belt Conference. The ODU and Georgia State moves were tied to the respective football programs and their desire to play at the FBS level. VCU departed because it sought a higher profile and a more lucrative home for its basketball program.
Yeager said that he received a phone call Sunday evening at approximately 6 p.m. from George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor informing him that the Patriots planned to move to the A-10.
O'Connor, in a separate teleconference Monday with A-10 officials, said that the school began to seriously consider the move after the first of the year. School officials recommended making the move, he said, after vetting the conference and its members.
The Newport News-based Atlantic 10 is poised to lose four schools after this season: Temple to the Big East; Charlotte to Conference USA; and Xavier and Butler to the so-called "Catholic 7" basketball schools that split from the Big East.
A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade said that last week's news that Xavier and Butler would depart had no bearing on the timing of Monday's announcement. She said that the invitation to Mason was simply part of the league's strategy to evaluate and strengthen membership.
Per CAA bylaws, Yeager said George Mason's impending departure means that none of its seven spring sports will be eligible to compete for conference championships and NCAA automatic postseason berths.
The exit also will cost the school approximately $2.65 million, Yeager said: a $1 million withdrawal fee, which league officials agreed upon after the previous round of departures, and more than $1.5 million in NCAA basketball tournament revenue.
Yeager was scheduled to hold a teleconference Monday afternoon with league presidents and athletic directors to discuss commitments and future plans. He would not discuss specifics, nor would he say if there is a timetable for further expansion.
He did sound like someone who is weary of the change and uncertainty of conference realignment, calling it "an occupational hazard."
"I'm glad I'm 62 instead of 42," he said. "I think I can speak for all the commissioners. This is something that I don't think any of us enjoy. However we react is going to impact somebody else. It's been going on in just about all leagues. I don't think any of us think this is the highlight of our career, by any stretch."
The CAA's remaining all-sports members are William and Mary, James Madison, UNC Wilmington, Towson, Delaware, Drexel, Northeastern and Hofstra. College of Charleston joins next year.
Yeager said that he's heard no second thoughts from CofC, which is leaving the Southern Conference. The Charleston Post and Courier reported that Cougars' officials released a statement in which they confirmed their commitment to their new league, saying that the strength and quality of CAA members was "an excellent match."
Yeager and the CAA experienced this type of upheaval in 2000, when Richmond, American and East Carolina departed for various leagues, leaving the conference with just six members. The CAA added Towson, Drexel, Delaware and Hofstra, then Northeastern and more recently Georgia State.
The departures of VCU, ODU and Mason remove the CAA's three marquee basketball programs of the past seven years. VCU and Mason famously made runs to the Final Four, Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011.
Yeager said that same kind of magic is possible from another present or perhaps future CAA member. He pointed out that Florida Gulf Coast is in the NCAA Sweet 16 in just its second year of Division I eligibility, though he was quick to say that he didn't mean to imply that FGCU is a CAA expansion target.
Yeager said that CAA schools continue to be attractive to other leagues, just as he talks to other schools about their potential interest in the conference. It's a fool's errand, he said, to predict too far into the future.
"When you talk about commitment, I don't know that anybody can predict anything," he said. "A year ago, when we had a discussion about a $1 million withdrawal fee, that was supposedly going to put the brakes on everything. Doesn't happen. Some of the other leagues have withdrawal fees of tens of millions of dollars. That's not stopping it.
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. You regroup and move on. It's a little bit of, put a chip on your shoulder and let's prove to everybody that's projecting a great demise, prove them wrong. We've done it before, we'll do it again."Copyright © 2015, CT Now