Thursday, May 10, 2012

Richmond Burning Final Bridges with CAA?

When the Patriot League allowed for member schools to offer conventional football scholarships this past winter,  then Lafayette president Daniel Weiss noted that "we believe over time what this decision is in the best interest of the league because it will help us with future membership prospects."

While everything I've heard still points to the Patriot League taking a cautious eye at expanding with new football-only or all-sports members, the League has definitely put themselves in a better position to attract potential new members in the maelstrom that is college football realignment at the moment.

It is in this environment where Richmond athletic director Jim Miller waded, into a swamp where the CAA awaits word of a resolution of the Mexican standoff between Old Dominion, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth and their potential exits from the conference.

I feel his comments on conference speculation might spell the end of Richmond's relationship with the CAA.


Richmond is a member in the Atlantic 10 in all sports except football, where they remain an uneasy relationship with the CAA, who took over ownership of the football conferene that the A-10 administered in 2005.

As a member of both the Atlantic 10 in all sports but a member in CAA football, you would the Spiders would tread a very fine line, or remain very quiet, about the speculation that non-football CAA members George Mason and VCU might consider a move to the Atlantic 10.

You'd be wrong, however, based on this transcript of a radio interview conducted yesterday.

When asked if he thought VCU and George Mason are going to join the Atlantic 10: ”Let me say this, first of all I don’t have any inside knowledge that’s it’s going to happen or not going to happen, I know there’s a lot of talk about it, but when the A10 started looking at this thing probably two years ago…we have consistently been the No.1 non-BCS basketball conference when you measure by power ratings and all that…actually we’ve been better than some of the BCS conferences…It’s not about poaching schools from one league or a different league or grab this grab this, we said we want to be the best league out there and who might want to join us to help make that happen. We haven’t issued a bunch of invitations out to people…we just said who makes sense, and we made it known that that’s what our goal was, and that’s what we wanted to do….If one of those two schools or both those schools that you just mentioned want to be a part of that exciting adventure, I’d hope they would apply. Because I think that’s where we’re gonna end up and that’s where our goal is. Do I think they’ll do it? I really honestly don’t know, I imagine the decisions are being made now, they’ve collected a lot of information.”

Most athletic directors, when asked about such questions, give a boilerplate response about "not commenting on speculation" or "ongoing negotiations" or anything like that.

Not Mr. Miller, however.

I'm not sure if folks really understand how extraordinary these statements are coming from a sitting athletic director commenting on athletic conference speculation, and whose football team competes in the CAA - making what seems to be a pitch for George Mason and VCU.

But wait - there's more.

On ODU moving to CUSA: “Old Dominion I understand is most likely to accept a bid to Conference USA, I think that’s immanent from everything I’ve heard, that they’re making an announcement on Monday. I haven’t heard that from any ODU folks, but that’s what I understand is right around the corner.”

So not only does he give a pitch for Mason and VCU to head to the Atlantic 10, but he adds a heap of speculation himself to Old Dominion's departure for Conference USA as well - thus directly affecting CAA football, the conference in which his Spiders compete.

If you're a CAA president or athletic director, what do you make of this except a declaration of war against your conference?

It's hard to take it any other way - especially if you feel, as I do, that a move by Old Dominion to Conference USA would be the trigger to push George Mason and VCU to the Atlantic 10.

Losing one of those schools would be bad for the CAA, but losing all three would be, to put it mildly, a serious blow that could put the future of the conference in jeopardy.

But whatever happens to Mason, VCU or Old Dominion, how can Mr. Miller go to any sort of meeting involving CAA football and look other athletic directors in the eye?

I don't know about anyone else, but I think this could  be the final rupture between Richmond and the CAA, which started with the Spiders' move to the Atlantic 10 years ago and continued through the CAA's sponsoring of the Atlantic 10.

*****

Where could Richmond for 63-scholarship football go if the CAA kicks them out?

The Southern Conference is a potential destination - as long as Appalachian State, the closest SoCon school to Richmond, remains in the conference.  Recently, Appalachian State message boards have been consumed by rumors that they're mulling an invite to the Sun Belt Conference in an effort to join FBS.

The Big South is another possibility, and counts nearby Liberty and VMI as members - but with Liberty thinking about their own move to FBS, and the possibility of Coastal Carolina leaving, leaves that conference too with uncertainty.

Could the relatively steady Patriot League - which seems to stand like a beacon of stability with the turmoil rocking other conferences - be their best possible destination?

After all, the Patriot League's "core five" are not going anywhere.  Fordham is also not going anywhere, and is already a member of the Atlantic 10 with Richmond.

And with merit-based aid and 63 scholarships, Richmond can still play FBS teams like Duke and Virginia to test their mettle and get guarantee paydays.

In order to be a part of the Patriot League they would have to adhere to an academic index for their football recruits, but it doesn't look like is should be a problem for a high-academic school like Richmond to meet that requirement.

Richmond considered a move to the Patriot League years ago, of course, when the prospect of the CAA taking over the A-10 football conference became a reality - but faced a mutiny from fans and donors when faced with the prospect of competing in "non-scholarship" football.

But saying that the landscape in 2012 is different, however, is putting things way too mildly, the way realignment has torn through Division I athletics the past two years.

Could Richmond end up in the Patriot League because it will have nowhere else to go?

I'm starting to picture a scenario where Richmond and VMI  join the Patriot League in football - a scenario that seemed unthinkable two days ago.

If Old Dominion, VCU and George Mason leave, the SoCon loses Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, and the CAA grabs Coastal Carolina in an effort to keep the league together, where else could they go?

In this uncertain time of conference realignment, nothing should be taken off the table.

About the only thing that's certain is whatever happens in the "days of our lives" that is realignment, in my opinion it's hard to see the Spiders remaining in CAA football after the latest comments from their athletic director, whether the CAA stays together or not.

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