Retiring CAA commissioner Tom Yeager on the tourney, Baltimore, Towson's stature in the league

This weekend's CAA men's basketball tournament will be the last for retiring commissioner Tom Yeager.

The 2015-16 Colonial Athletic Association men's basketball tournament at Royal Farms Arena will be the last one in Baltimore for at least three years. The conference announced in January that the tournament would move to Charleston, S.C., and stay there through 2019 after this year's championship ends on Monday. The tournament will also be Tom Yeager's last as CAA commissioner. Yeager, who has been the commissioner since the league's inception in 1985, announced last June that he was retiring in June 2016. In 1985, the CAA was an eight-team conference limited to the Middle Atlantic and Washington, D.C. Now the league spans from Boston to Charleston. Under Yeager, the CAA has captured 19 national championships (four in football) and advanced two teams to the men's basketball Final Four. With the conference basketball tournament scheduled to begin Friday, Yeager spoke about the tournament's three-year run in Baltimore, Towson's presence in the league, and what he expects his emotions to be like when he hands out the championship trophy for the final time.

Several officials have expressed disappointment at the conference's decision to take the basketball tournament from Baltimore to Charleston for the next three years. What kind of feedback have you received from people in Baltimore?

I think it's understandable, the disappointment. But I think they also understand generally how the nuances of events, moving around. I think we're going forward to this week up in Baltimore, and we're making it the best show ever with the idea of maybe keeping the market open sometime in the future again. But I can understand. Heck, it will be emotional for us pulling out of there on Monday night, too. We've developed a lot of great friendships and partnerships with folks up in Baltimore over the last three-and-a-half years.

Would it have helped if, say, Towson and Delaware had made the championship final one year and raised attendance levels?

Delaware was our champion the first year [in 2013-14], and Towson was, I think, our No. 2 seed. I think it goes for any conference in any locale that the closer the teams participating in the championship are to the site, usually the better the attendance. But that's something you can't stage. It's not like you can say, 'All you guys, thanks for coming, but we're matching these two guys for the championship.' It just operates that way. That's kind of the nature of the business for everybody in college basketball and college athletics or any event in general. If there's an overriding local interest or the most ardent fans of a program can get there fairly easily, attendance will generally increase.

How would you sum up the league's experience of having the tournament in Baltimore?

I think it was a terrific venue. It's a great tournament and championship city. Our fans found an incredible amount to do apart from when they weren't watching their teams at the arena. I have nothing but great regard and great remarks for the city and the experience that was there. I think it kind of delivered what we had hoped to have. Obviously, all of us would love to have sold-out crowds, but that didn't happen. That's maybe kind of the new norm with us rebuilding with the current membership and the level of support that we had in the past.

Since Towson's entry to the conference in 2001, would it be fair to say that the Tigers are a fixture in the CAA?

If you go back into the history of operating for 30 years, the fact that they've been around for about half of it, they're solidly entrenched now. Our three remaining charter schools are William & Mary, [James] Madison and [UNC] Wilmington. But I think they're very important to us. Baltimore's verey important to us for having a member there, but also for all of our schools that have a ton of alumni in the Maryland area. Again, it's centrally located. We hope that as the tournament progresses this week, fans can get there and want to be there. Everywhere I've gone even up through last weekend, people are excited about Baltimore and about how we're going to go to dinner again at our favorite place to eat and look into doing other activities. Sometimes as a tournament promoter, you'd like to have everybody sequestered in the building because the outside environments weren't very exciting. Well, that's not the case with Baltimore. Everybody loves going there, and the activities that take place, it's like, 'Hey, we have a 2:30 game, so we'll be done by 4:30.' They're making dinner plans and everything along that line. I'd love to have them come back and buy popcorn for the evening sessions.

Several years, there was a flurry of realignment with schools changing conference affiliations. Is there any concern of that occurring again?

I think everybody's pretty stable right now. Yeah, there was a huge movement that kind of wrapped up through the '12-13 year as part of the transition. I think the conferences are pretty stable now. The thing that we're excited about going into the tournament is, we have our highest ranking ever entering our championship week. We're No. 9 out of 32 conferences. In our Final Four years, we finished at 8 or 9, but never during the regular season. We've been No. 9 all year long. So it's the most competitive we've ever been. I think the new members are starting to resonate with folks. The people in Charleston and Elon are excited, and new rivalries are being built, and I think that's going on with all of the conferences. Everybody's pretty stable and has got whatever membership numbers that they're at. I don't spend a lot of time as we did in years past drawing up expansion scenarios or replacement scenarios. That just hasn't been a discussion even in the rumor stage.

Will you feel melancholic on Monday night when you give the CAA championship as commissioner for the last time?

Absolutely. And at the same time, Tuesday and Wednesday, we're starting with the women's championship, and we'll do it again on Saturday night in Upper Marlboro with the women's tournament. But yeah, it always is. Getting to the point here where I'm checking off, "Last time we're going to do this" kind of stuff. Last weekend was the last regular-season game, and this is the last tournament. So yeah, I'm sure I'll be as wound up as much as the kids are on the court on Monday night.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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