As Colonial Athletic Association officials squelched another report about VCU and George Mason bolting for the Atlantic 10 Conference, four sources directly involved with conference realignment said that those two schools could indeed announce their departures within the coming weeks.
Should VCU and Mason depart, it would rob the CAA of two of its three strongest basketball programs in recent years and could severely impact the conference as it moves forward with membership and a new TV contract with the NBC Sports Network.
A depleted CAA also might prompt Old Dominion, the conference's other consistent basketball presence of recent years, to look for a stronger home in the sport.
The New York Post reported mid-day Friday that VCU, George Mason and likely Butler would join the Atlantic 10, with a May 1 announcement.
A VCU official flatly denied the report to Richmond CBS affiliate WTVR. ESPN's Andy Katz reported that CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade communicated to him that the report was inaccurate. Yeager sent emails to the CAA membership that the Post report was a false alarm.
But sources said that VCU and George Mason are indeed seriously considering joining the A-10. The A-10, whose offices are located in Newport News, is a higher-profile basketball conference than the CAA. That league, which routinely sends multiple teams to the NCAA basketball tournament, recently saw Temple, one of its premier programs, announce it was leaving to join the Big East.
Temple's departure leaves the A-10 with 13 schools and a footprint that stretches from Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the north to Charlotte in the south and to St. Louis in the midwest. The additions of VCU, George Mason and Butler, from the Horizon League, would give the A-10 the last three so-called mid-major programs to make the Final Four.
Several weeks ago, Yeager strongly denied a CBSSports.com report that had VCU and Mason considering the Atlantic 10 and said that the CAA membership was committed and intact. However, just days later Georgia State announced that it would join the Sun Belt Conference, because the school intends to play Football Bowl Subdivision-level football. The CAA sponsors championship subdivision-level football.
Georgia State's impending departure leaves the CAA as an 11-team league, stretching from Boston (Northeastern) to Wilmington, N.C. (UNC Wilmington). The CAA also has several football-only members in New Hampshire, Maine, Villanova and Rhode Island, though the Rams will downsize their program and leave after the coming season.
Conference realignment has trickled down from the major Division I, FBS leagues to the mid-major conferences as schools seek favorable football and basketball affiliations.
The ACC, Big Ten, Pac 12, Southeastern, Big East and Big 12 conferences have shuffled membership within the past two years. As a result, leagues such as Conference USA, the Mountain West, the Sun Belt and now the A-10 and CAA are affected.
In the wake of Georgia State's announced departure, Yeager and CAA officials discussed raising the exit fee from $250,000 to $1 million. But an attempt to get school presidents on a conference call to vote on the measure fizzled when only one president was available. Exit fees will be discussed at a later date.
The Atlantic 10 could be further affected as Charlotte seeks a home for its fledgling football program. The 49ers want to play FBS-level football following a transition period, and the A-10 doesn't sponsor the sport. That could push Charlotte toward the Sun Belt or Conference USA as an all-sport home, thus potentially opening a spot if the A-10 wants an even number of schools.
If Butler decides that it wants to remain in a midwestern conference, rather than cast its lot with an eastern-based league that also includes Xavier and Dayton, that too could create an opening for a school that the A-10 deems attractive.