College Basketball: The CAA Needs to Move Its Tournament Once in a While
Hello, college basketball fans!
Earlier this century, the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) expanded their league, inviting Drexel, Delaware, Hofstra, and Towson. This expanded the CAA footprint north into the states of Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New York, introducing the CAA to the New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore markets.
Later, the CAA expanded north to Northeastern (Boston) and south to Georgia State (Atlanta), stretching the CAA presence all across the East Coast.
However, with all the CAA expansion, the CAA is still a predominantly Virginia-centered conference.
That was no more telling than this year's CAA basketball championship. Drexel played for the CAA title and an NCAA bid against Virginia Commonwealth (VCU). The game was played in Richmond, Virginia. VCU is in Richmond. The crowd was decidedly behind VCU. Despite a late comeback, VCU won the championship and Drexel was later denied an NCAA at-large berth.
Why was the game in Richmond? Because it has been ever since 1990 and will be there until 2014. Even with all of the CAA expansion, the CAA Tournament has not left Richmond even though Drexel and Hofstra have been in the CAA for at least a decade.
This gives the Virginia CAA schools (especially VCU) a distinct advantage come tournament time. In the last six seasons, a Virginia school has won the CAA Championship (VCU three of those times). The last time a non-Virginia school won the CAA Championship was 2006 (won by UNC Wilmington).
Which conference is a better fit for Drexel and Hofstra?
In addition, the only schools chosen from the CAA as NCAA at-large teams are, once again, from Virginia (George Mason in 2006 and 2011, VCU in 2011).
When Hofstra beat George Mason twice in 2006 (including in the CAA semifinals), Hofstra was rejected by the NCAA, while George Mason got in (George Mason's AD was on the Selection Committee that year). In the CAA semifinals, a George Mason player punched a Hofstra player between the legs.
In fact, if you look at the 2010-11 CAA standings, Hofstra went 14-4, while VCU went 12-6. VCU did make the CAA final that year, but the tournament was in Richmond. What if the tournament was closer to New York? Maybe Hofstra makes the CAA final, while VCU loses early, and it's Hofstra that goes to the NCAA Tournament instead of VCU.
Drexel also has been rejected twice in the last six years as a bubble team: 2007 and this past year, despite winning the regular season CAA title and losing once in its last 20 games.
Do you think it's a coincidence that whenever a Virginia CAA school is on the bubble, they always get in, and whenever a non Virginia CAA school is on the bubble, they are left out? I don't.
As long as the CAA Men's Basketball Tournament remains in Richmond, Drexel and Hofstra will always be fighting an uphill battle to overcome the huge advantage that the Virginia schools have. In addition, unless you are from Virginia, it is next to impossible for a CAA school to get an at-large berth to the NCAA's (if Drexel couldn't get in this year, when will they ever?).
So, I strongly feel that the CAA Tournament needs to move around.
The No. 1 reason, as I said throughout the article, is fairness.
The No. 2 reason, is to give the CAA Tournament a more national presence (or at least more of a presence on the East Coast).
If a conference has teams in the New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Boston, and Atlanta areas, why are they settling for Richmond, a city without a single major professional sports team? Why are they settling for an arena which doesn't have enough seats to host the NCAA tournament (minimum of 12,000 required)?
With the recent success of VCU in the past two years, this is a great chance for the CAA to move their basketball tournament to a bigger stage. They already signed an agreement with NBC Sports to cover the men's semifinals and championship game nationally.
My first choice for a CAA Tournament site would be the Washington, DC area. The Verizon Center or the Comcast Center (University of Maryland) would be ideal.
It would be a shorter trip for the northern schools, and it would be right in George Mason's backyard. You can sell more tickets. With the tournament in Washington, the media coverage from DC (as well as New York and Philadelphia) should improve tremendously.
I think the ACC tournament was in DC once or twice, but rarely. Unless the ACC tournament or another conference tournament returns to Washington, college basketball fans (especially George Mason fans) should pack the arena that year.
In addition, since the CAA is on NBC as opposed to ESPN (and all the other conference championship games), they can move the conference championship game to Saturday instead of Monday night. That will allow the league to make noise closer to Selection Sunday rather than have all the other leagues steal their thunder. Maybe if the CAA final was the day before Selection Sunday, Drexel gets in (although it didn't hurt Iona's case).
Also, fans would have an easier time traveling for the championship game, as opposed to it being on a Monday night.
Maybe eventually, the CAA Tournament could move to Philadelphia, but baby steps for now. I wouldn't even mind, as a Drexel fan, if Atlanta or Charlotte got a chance once in a while. They are bigger cities. I wouldn't even mind the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area. But having the tournament in Richmond year after year is, in my opinion, boring.
The Big East tournament is always in Madison Square Garden, but it is New York. Do you want to compare Richmond to New York? Go ahead.
There are other fairly constant conference tournament homes. The Big Ten has been in Indianapolis for years (they are moving to Chicago next year). The Pac-12 has been in Los Angeles for years (they are moving to Las Vegas next year).
Among conferences similar in stature to the CAA:
The Missouri Valley Conference's (MVC) permanent home is St. Louis. But the tournament is in an NHL arena and the league is a predominantly midwestern league.
The Mid American Conference (MAC) has their tournament in Cleveland. But, it's in an NBA arena, and the league is also predominantly midwestern as well.
Neither the MAC nor the MVC have the geographical footprint of the CAA.
As long as the CAA insists the NCAA tournament be held in Richmond, Drexel and Hofstra (along with other non-Virginia schools) will always be second-class citizens in the conference.
Right now, less than half of the CAA schools are from the state of Virginia, yet for the last six years, all of the CAA tournament champions have been from Virginia. Name another conference that is clearly biased in favor of one state, with a significant presence in other states.
So I say to Drexel and Hofstra: get tough with the CAA. Demand that the conference tournament be moved around. If the CAA refuses, leave for another conference.
The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and the Patriot League would be much more geographically-friendly conferences.
The MAAC's Iona received an at-large bid to this year's NCAA tournament (probably at Drexel's expense).
The Patriot League's Lehigh beat Duke in arguably the biggest opening game upset in NCAA history. In addition, Bucknell (the Patriot League's regular season champ) went all the way to Arizona and beat them in the NIT. Bucknell is no stranger to slaying Goliath. In 2005, Bucknell stunned Kansas in the NCAA tournament.
While neither the MAAC nor the Patriot League has had any Final Four teams, they are good basketball leagues.
In addition, both Drexel and Hofstra fit much more with the predominantly northeastern MAAC and Patriot Leagues than the more southern CAA.
The most southern MAAC team is Loyola (Maryland). The most southern Patriot League teams are Navy (Annapolis) and American (DC). Neither conference has any teams south of Washington (the CAA has seven such teams).
The Patriot League has Holy Cross in Massachusetts, but Drexel and Hofstra already have Northeastern in Massachusetts, so that comes out even. In the MAAC, the Buffalo trip would be the tough one.
While the CAA is clearly biased towards Virginia (especially Richmond), the MAAC and Patriot League determine their champions more fairly.
All Patriot League tournament games are held at the home of the higher seed. If the CAA were run like that, Drexel would have had home-court advantage throughout the tournament. If Drexel and VCU met in the CAA final in Philadelphia, does anyone think VCU still would've won?
The MAAC Tournament is played at a neutral site, but they move it around. The last MAAC Tournament was held in Springfield, Massachusetts. They've also recently had the tournament in Bridgeport, Connecticut; Albany, New York; Buffalo, New York; and Trenton, New Jersey. Drexel fans would easily be able to get to Trenton.
Hofstra would fit in perfectly in the MAAC, forming instant rivalries with Manhattan and Iona. St. Peter's and Fairfield aren't too far away either. In the CAA, Hofstra's closest rival is Drexel.
The MAAC would jump at the chance to bring in a Philadelphia school (Rider, the closest MAAC school to Philadelphia, receives almost no media coverage whatsoever in the Philadelphia area), and so would the Patriot League. In the Patriot League, Drexel would have three in-state rivals (Lehigh, Bucknell, and Lafayette).
If Drexel and Hofstra call the MAAC or Patriot League, I would imagine both leagues would have a very strong interest in both schools.
The Patriot League would become a 10-team league, so they could still have a double round-robin schedule.
The MAAC would have 12 teams. They can do a North/South split with Niagara, Canisius, Siena, Marist, Fairfield, and St. Peter's in the North, and Loyola, Drexel, Rider, Iona, Hofstra, and Manhattan in the South (or they can move one of the New York City schools to the North to keep the two New Jersey schools together).
Meanwhile, if you take Drexel and Hofstra away from the CAA, their league will take a hit in basketball. In addition, the CAA would lose the New York and Philadelphia markets.
The CAA would still be a stronger league than whichever league Drexel and Hofstra join, but the gap will narrow. Maybe the CAA or Patriot League could become another eastern mid-major conference people will be talking about more than they are now.
Also, if the chances of either Drexel or Hofstra making the NCAA's out of the CAA's are slim to none, with the deck stacked so far against them, is it worth staying?
If the CAA is willing to work with Drexel and Hofstra and the other northern schools, I wouldn't mind staying in the CAA. But if they insist on Virginia first, and everyone else second, Drexel and Hofstra need to move to a conference they will be respected in.
I say Drexel and Hofstra need to go to the CAA offices and put their collective foot down. Demand that the CAA move their basketball tournament around starting in 2015 or they leave.
The CAA has to ask themselves, do they want to be an eastern league or just a Virginia (or southeastern) league? If the answer is an eastern league, then they have to prove it, and make Drexel and Hofstra more welcome in the conference. If they want to be a Virginia league, pretty soon they will only have Virginia teams in the conference.
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