By Chuck Burton
College Sports Journal
PHILADELPHIA, PA. — Wouldn’t it be great if every time you needed to articulate something, you had a politician to call to say it?
You have to wonder if Tom Yeager, commissioner of the Colonial Athletic Association, is mulling that over in his head as he leaves Washington, D.C. this week to mull over his options in response to the departure of three members in the last few months, Georgia State, Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion.
Predictably, the CAA issued an actual release on its annual meeting that was extremely dry. Unless you consider one line on “received and endorsed the status report on efforts to increase conference membership” as excitement, the release was devoid of it.
What if, instead of a boring one-line sentence on conference membership, Yeager enlisted a professional politician to articulate what is really going on?
Rumor has flown about no fewer than a dozen different candidates potentially announcing a move to the CAA — announcements that could come as early as this week, or later this summer.
But nobody knows which direction the CAA will go with the invitations.
Certainly there are no shortage of candidates that might be interested in CAA membership. But whom might the CAA really want as candidates?
Essentially, there are three different directions the CAA can go with their conference preservation/expansion strategy — and, conveniently, there are three different politcians that would be perfect to deliver those messages.
Let’s start with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
“I’m honored by commissioner Tom Yeager to present the CAA’s new course in regards to the league’s direction going forward, here at my alma mater, the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication.
“I’m here to say the CAA needs a new course going forward — one that focuses on its strength in two areas, in both football and basketball.
“My friends, this new course is long overdue. The defenders of the status quo have already begun to yell and scream. They will try to demonize me. They will seek to divide us rather than unite us.
“But today, we are taking necessary and decisive action. Even the critics know in their hearts, if not yet in their minds, that the CAA is the biggest, baddest force in Football Championship Subdivision.
“Some are saying that the CAA is finished — that the loss of Georgia State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Old Dominion is going to collapse the conference, and the CAA will be no more.
“But I say it is time to use that to reload the conference to replace the teams that have left and leverage the CAA’s greatest strength — their utter dominance at the FCS level.
“Let’s face it, the CAA is the SEC of our division of football. No other FCS conference can boast four national champions over the last 10 years — and no other FBS conference, for that matter, either.
“There are plenty of schools that would sacrifice a lot to be a part of this – the class of Football Championship Subdivision.
“When the CAA approaches Appalachian State, Stony Brook, Liberty, and Fordham with all-sports invites, will they really say no?
“Coupled with the NCAA money from basketball, these schools would all see competitive upgrades from their existing conferences.
“In addition, all four have solid basketball programs as well as top-flight FCS football programs — and I’ve been assured by none other than Tubby Raymond that the Hens would be thrilled to be a part of this football conference. And why wouldn’t he? It would be, bar none, the best conference in the FCS. No other conference comes anywhere close.
“Would it also open up the possibility of becoming an FBS league, once those pinheads in the NCAA finally decide to allow entire leagues to sponsor such a league? Absolutely it would.
“I can hear my critics now, too, say that the CAA doesn’t add much in terms of media markets as well. Appalachian’s so-called ‘media market’ is miniscule, as is Lynchburg, Virginia’s.
“But folks are making too much of the term ‘media market’. What’s the best way to have a good media market? Produce the best product – a product that people will have no choice but to watch.
“Nobody talked about Old Dominion’s ‘market’ until they started winning at the FCS level. It’s important to remember that when you start to put too much stock in Nielsen ratings.
“And why would Fordham leave the Atlantic 10 to join the CAA, I hear you ask? Simple: Because the Atlantic 10 conference strategy is flawed, and will ultimately fail. Mid-major basketball will not balance a schools’ books without football, even at the FCS level, and Fordham will get that.
“As for those CAA members that don’t sponsor football — Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern, and UNC-Wilmington — they will have a choice with these moves. They can hitch their wagon to a healthy conference with top-level FCS football, or take their chances as mid-major basketball teams somewhere else.
“They can try the route of looking around for a conference that will accept them, but in the end, it will fail. Will they really leave the $5 million of hoops money on the table and pay $1 million to go join, say, America East?
“This strategy shoes the best route for CAA greatness — and it involves dominiating Football Championship Subdivision.
“Got a problem with that?”
Of course, the CAA might not want to go this direction with focusing on FCS football so strongly.
In that case, they might want to look to someone who knows how to deliver a message: former President Bill Clinton.
“Thank you, Tom, for that introduction. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed CAA basketball over the years, and I’m here to support this new direction of this outstanding athletic conference. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to be in UNC-Wilmington to make this momentous announcement today.
“It’s no secret, or coincidence, that the CAA has had two Final Four teams in the last six years. George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth have thrilled us with their tremendous runs in the NCAA Tournament, but more importantly they’ve had some of the best mid-major teams in America as well over this time period with Drexel, Hofstra, and Old Dominion.
“I am proud that the CAA has been so dominant in basketball, and we propose to build on that as the cornerstone of the conference going forward.
“As of today, Tom Yeager will be shifting the management of the football element of the CAA to America East.
“This will allow the CAA to concentrate on doing what they do best — mid-major basketball, while allowing its football members to go to conferences that share their values.
“Richmond, William & Mary, and Villanova will join the Patriot League, while Towson, New Hampshire, and Maine will join Rhode Island, Albany, Stony Brook and Central Connecticut state in a brand-new Eastern-centric football conference.
“(I have heard that Delaware and James Madison have accepted football-only memberships in the MAC, where they will enjoy pursuing life as low-major bowl subdivision teams.)
“In my eight years as president, we always said that it’s important to focus on your core strengths. With a hostile Congress, we passed legislation that made budget surpluses by one vote. It’s the same for the CAA — move football somewhere else, and focus on what will propel you forward.
“In that light, the decision to extend invitations to Davidson, UNC-Asheville, Fairfield, and University of Hartford shows that the CAA is taking that strength in basketball — and expanding it.
“For the state of North Carolina, this means some great basketball between Wilmington, Asheville and Davidson. It might be the Tar Heel state, but there’s some great hoops right there and some fierce rivalries should break out.
“As a matter of fact, I remember watching Stephen Curry come one basket away from the Final Four during Hillary’s campaign for President, and it would be real exciting to see them as a part of a boosted CAA going forward.
“All have a history of strong basketball programs, and three of these four new teams reached the NCAA tournament very recently, so there’s no question of their commitment to hoops.
“Furthermore, with these schools, you have strong basketball media markets that goes from Boston to the Carolinas, covering all bases from Hartford, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
“And it’s clear what the new CAA is about — top-notch Eastern basketball.
“I mean what does football have to do with a strong athletic conference, anyway? The Atlantic 10 has made it through plenty well without it, although they haven’t had the same Final Four success as the CAA.
“By removing the distraction of football, the CAA can now compete head-to-head with the Atlantic 10 in their core sport where they have competed on the national level — and succeeded, just like we did in front of a Republican-led Congress.
“I don’t believe that CAA football is core to the identity of the conference, especially when you thing that in 2013, CAA football is going to be four CAA schools and four affiliates.
“And it’s not like Drexel or Hofstra are going to be starting football teams soon. They know which side of their bread is buttered.
“It’s the right time to focus on basketball, and it’s the right time for the CAA to become the dominant basketball-only conference in the East.
“Before I take questions from you, throng of young reporters, can I ask you, is there a Taco Bell nearby? I’m dying for a chalupa.”
Finally, if it’s a “middle strategy” the CAA pursues, perhaps they could call on the talents of Mike Bloomberg, mayor of New York.
“Thank you, president of Hofstra, Stuart Rabinowitz, and Mike Tranghese, for those amazing introductions. We’re happy to be here on Long Island, and it’s also the home of future superstars like every member of Hofstra pep band, chorus and the dance team. Weren’t they fantastic?
“Friends, the CAA is at a crossroads. The forces that are ripping apart all of collegiate athletics are also ripping apart the CAA. Schools are trying to make a run at the money in the FBS, which is why Old Dominion and Georgia State decided to leave the conference a few months ago.
“Other schools, too, like Virginia Commonwealth, look to leave to pursue money in basketball as well.
“Why has the CAA been successful? The reason is easy, both basketball and football have been the two pillars of the conference.
“While football is a different entity from the rest of the conference, they have been a critical element of the branding and growth of the league. Indeed, it was Northeastern and Hofstra’s sponsorship of football that was a critical driver of growth of the league years ago.”
(In the background, there’s an icy stare from Rabinowitz directed Bloomberg’s way.)
“When Villanova won the national championship, they did so as a member of the CAA. Same as Richmond. While football is not big enough on its own to drive the league’s agenda, it’s a critical part of the identity of the league — just as critical as the basketball portion and all of its runs at the Final Four.
“This underpins the CAA’s choices for expansion this go-around.
“With their invitations to Elon, Stony Brook, Davidson and Boston University to join the conference, the CAA will become once again a strong, 12-sport conference — and it begins a fantastic hoops rivalry between the two strong basketball programs on Long Island, Stony Brook and Hofstra.
“As a part of this invitation, I am also announcing the kickoff of the Lighthouse project at the old Nassau Coliseum — and a 10-year deal for Hofstra/Stony Brook basketball games to be played there, contingent on Stony Brook accepting their bid to the conference.
“These are the types of sporting events that can be a win for everyone — Stony Brook, Hofstra, the Islanders, and the citizens of Long Island and New York City.
“Along with these games, we feel the addition of Davidson will make CAA Hoops a continual force to be reckoned with.
“But just as importantly, the addition of strong football programs like Elon and Stony Brook are strong programs that will help develop the CAA’s strength in terms of being a strong FCS football conference as well.
“With these additions, just think where we are today as the CAA — a conference that has a increased presence in my domain, New York City, along with the best Football Championship Subdivision conference in the Northeast.
“Together, the CAA will build their future, and they will not rest — not for one second — until we have fulfilled the promise and possibility of our great conference.
“No, I don’t want a sip of your Big Gulp, Stuart!”