The Atlantic Ten Conference made another big move to fill the void left by the impending departure of Temple to the Big East, and dealt a blow to the Colonial Athletic Association, when Virginia Commonwealth announced Tuesday that it is leaving the CAA to join the A-10.
The surprise was that VCU is leaving immediately, to begin playing A-10 sports in 2012-13. That's particularly noteworthy in men's basketball. VCU will be the 15th A-10 school next year. Butler is due to join the following year from the Horizon League, at the same time Temple leaves for the Big East Conference.
"We've got to be looking at next steps in terms of national competitiveness, and this is that next step," said VCU president Michael Rao. He talked of the A-10 being a good fit across the board, adding, "We need to continue to rise on the national sports scene."
Drexel now becomes the clear front-runner in next season's CAA men's basketball. That's the shortterm upside for the Dragons. The downside, even next season, is that with VCU gone, the CAA will have an even tougher time convincing the NCAA Selection Committee it is worthy of at-large bids. Last season, VCU got the automatic berth by beating Drexel in the CAA conference final. The Dragons, the CAA regular-season winner, were denied an at-large bid despite a 27-6 record.
"We lost a good program, with good coaches," said Drexel coach Bruiser Flint. "It is what it is. They had to do what they needed to do for VCU. Nothing surprises me.
"If you had told me Syracuse was going to be out of the Big East, then I can't be surprised VCU is leaving."
A primary reason for the quick move, VCU officials said, is that CAA bylaws call for teams in sports other than basketball to be ineligible for league postseason competition after a school announces it is leaving the league. CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said that bylaw already is scheduled to be reviewed at next month's league meeting.
Asked if he felt VCU had upgraded with the move, Yeager said, "Does it matter? They're gone. Time will tell."
In addition to joining crosstown Richmond, VCU will be in a league that includes St. Joseph's and La Salle. Xavier president Michael Graham, chairman of the A-10 council of presidents, said the addition of VCU "further strengthens us as the nation's premier basketball-driven conference."
The A-10 has picked up two of the hottest young coaches in the country in VCU's Shaka Smart and Butler's Brad Stevens, who both have turned down offers from BCS schools after leading their teams to the Final Four in recent years.
George Mason also had considered a move to the A-10 but announced it plans to stay in the CAA. Old Dominion, another CAA school, is looking to upgrade its football program to the higher FBS level and considering its league options.
It will be interesting to see if the CAA continues to hold its league tournament in Richmond since VCU fans were annually the largest fan bloc. The CAA is contracted to be in Richmond through 2014. Flint said a number of possibilities, including the Palestra and Baltimore, have been discussed as possible future sites.