Thursday, July 12, 2012

Seven Wishes

Two posts in a row with a Night Ranger song! My plan to return them to the top of the charts is underway!

It's been a little more than mark three weeks since the CAA voted unanimously to maintain the status quo and exclude from postseason conference tournaments schools that have already announced their intention to leave the league. That assured Old Dominion and Georgia State will not be eligible for the 2013 CAA Tournament, which, coupled with the APR-related absences of Towson and UNC Wilmington, means there will be a grand total of seven teams competing for the automatic berth during what will be a three-day tournament next March.

The resolution of the eligibility issue means we can now focus solely on conjecturing about expansion, which is really all anyone has been conjecturing about since way back in March, when VCU was still in the CAA. No really. VCU was in the CAA. You could look it up.

Tom Yeager, who was candid to a fault while the rumors swirled around VCU and George Mason, has been understandably quiet about expansion possibilities, but he told the Daily Press in Virginia last Friday that he expects the CAA to reveal its new teams sooner than later.

So I am running out of time to offer up my long-brewing seven wishes about CAA expansion and realignment. Get it? Seven wishes? Seven teams in the CAA Tournament? This is why they pay me the big bucks.

There's also a double meaning to the seven wishes, but you'll have to read all the way to number seven for that answer. Ha! I buried the lede on you.

(As always, the caveat remains that nobody ever listens to me about these things—understandably so—so don't go thinking any of this is going to happen. Except no. 7.)

1.) The CAA almost certainly can't do this, but I'd love to see expansion limited to one team. A 10-team conference is perfect for scheduling purposes. Every team plays every opponent twice. Boom. Done. Of course, a 10-team league leaves the CAA in the position of having to do this whole expansion thing all over again the next time someone leaves, and if I was a betting man, I'd wager at least one of the George Mason-Delaware-James Madison (in that order) trio still has wandering eyes despite a $1 million exit fee. What, you thought the ever-nefarious Tom O'Connor was being magnanimous, or just wanted to see Blaine Taylor in Richmond one more time, when he recently suggested lame duck schools should remain eligible for the conference tournament?

2.) So if the CAA must expand beyond 10 teams, here's hoping it only goes to 12. Again, Yeager may feel as if he has no choice but to go to 14 (or higher) because he needs to protect himself against future departures. As we have learned the past seven seasons, a 12-team league is decidedly imperfect from a scheduling perspective, though it would be a lot better if the CAA were finally divided into north and south divisions and each team played 16 conference games (two against division rivals and one apiece against teams in the other division).

A 12-team alignment is also less-than-ideal when it comes to stoking pre-season optimism. There can only be one champion, of course, and the odds of being the 1 in the 1-in-12 are daunting, especially in a league in which just four schools have won the title in the last 11 seasons. The departures of VCU and Old Dominion—who combined to win the last four titles and seven of the 11 since the CAA expanded to 10 in 2001-02—have the rest of us feeling pretty optimistic. But to expand to 14 would be discouraging, even if there may not be a choice.

3.) With the geographical power of the league suddenly shifted northward—the America East five account for more than half of the remaining CAA membership—this is a perfect opportunity for Hofstra, Northeastern, Drexel, Delaware and Towson to flex their muscles and push for equal representation of northern-based schools in expansion. Hey, if you've got it, flaunt it.

As three northern, non-football playing schools, you can be sure Hofstra, Northeastern and Drexel are tied together at the hip throughout this process. If one school wants (or doesn't want) something, then it's got a pretty good chance of finding an ally with at least one of the other two.

Two is the big number here. Per the CAA's bylaws, a three-quarters majority among schools "in good standing" (i.e. not ODU and Georgia State) is required to approve a new member. So two nay votes will doom a prospective newcomer. The surprising shift of bitter Northeastern rival Boston University to the Patriot League was an implicit admission the Terriers would never get the votes required to go to the CAA.

Of course, there's nothing stopping at least two of the James Madison-UNCW-William & Mary-George Mason quartet from banding together, saying "SOUTHERN BIAS WILL LIVE FOREVER!" and putting the kibosh on any expansion that favors northern schools. I don't envy Yeager's task here…

4.) …but it doesn’t mean I can't ask Santa Yeager to focus solely on northern-based schools that are happy playing football at Division I-AA. Adding CAA football schools New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island as full-time members would get the league to 12, enhance the synergy between basketball and football and solidify the north as the league's new power base.

That, of course, is not very likely to happen. New Hampshire and Maine are not the easiest places to get to in the middle of the winter (or any time of year, for that matter) and their men's basketball programs have combined for a grand total of zero NCAA Tournament appearances all-time out of the America East/NAC/ECAC North (hi Litos!). Rhode Island, meanwhile, just hired Danny Hurley as its head men's basketball coach and probably isn't looking to take what would be perceived as a step down to the CAA.

A secondary option is to look to schools such as Albany and Robert Morris, both of whom have thrived playing football in the Northeast Conference (one of the two schools has earned at least a share of the NEC title 11 times in the league's 16-year existence) while making multiple NCAA Tournament appearances in men's basketball over the last decade. And from a basketball perspective, a move from the America East (for Albany) and the NEC (for Robert Morris) would be a clear step up. But do basketball teams want to fly into Albany and out to Pittsburgh every winter?

In a perfect world, Stony Brook would be an ironclad lock to climb aboard and provide more representation from a northern school that plays football, but there's that whole Hofstra-hates-Stony-Brook-and-vice-versa thing. Oh well. Maybe next time.

5.) Is it too much to ask Blaine Taylor and Ron Hunter, now that they've had their say, to acknowledge they were collateral damage in their schools' hare-brained decision to pursue a berth in the Bowl and lay off the us-against-the-big-bad-world-that-is-out-to-screw-us rhetoric? Yes, yes it is. Which is why Taylor and Hunter are two of our favorites and two of the best coaches in the league.

Taylor and Hunter are reminders that outstanding coaches manage to find motivation and slights just about anywhere. Last year, Hunter used the minimal expectations for Georgia State, which was 59 games under .500 in its first six seasons in the CAA, to drive the Panthers to a sixth-place finish. Then, after Georgia State was largely overlooked in the conference award balloting, he riled up the Panthers so much they handed the Flying Dutchmen the worst loss in CAA Tournament history.

Taylor, meanwhile, has built Old Dominion into the league's premier program over the last decade and didn’t seem to appreciate being overshadowed by VCU's Final Four run when he told the VCU student newspaper, The Commonwealth Times, that "…the tournament can make rock stars out of very average people." Snarky? Sure. But I'd much rather have someone acting snarky when his Big Dog status is threatened than glomming on to the bandwagon and then searching for the nearest exit because not so deep down he can't handle no longer being the Big Dog.

Taylor's comment inspired VCU coach Shaka Smart—speaking of someone who can find motivation anywhere, hey, thanks again for that stupid Tweet, Andre Cornelius!—to utter this gem after the Rams beat Old Dominion 61-48 in Richmond in January: "I don't know if we were rock stars tonight or average people." Awesome.

The CAA voting to uphold the tournament ban on exiting teams will provide both men plenty of material the next eight months. Of course, if it was the other way around—and, say, Hofstra and Delaware were leaving to go back to the America East but were still allowed to participate in a final CAA Tournament—you can bet Taylor and Hunter would be muttering about how unfair it is for these lame duck teams to compete for the title. Which is why we like them so much.

6.) Now that the Richmond Coliseum is almost surely out of the picture as the long-term home of the CAA Tournament (I will pause to allow you to run naked around the living room in celebration), it's time to rotate the site. True neutrality doesn't benefit a league that relies on the income from the CAA Tournament to pay the bills, but alternating the location every year even among the mid-Atlantic schools will quiet a whole bunch of us squawkers. I would be a very happy person if the CAA Tournament was at the Bob Carpenter Center. I would not, however, stay at the Howard Johnson's, because I'm no longer 25 and stupid.

7.) Most important of all, the CAA must make "Seven Wishes" the motto for the 2013 tournament (listen to the song—it is appropriate for both the participating schools as well as those that left the league) and get Night Ranger to perform a concert during the weekend. Wait, what? Hear (or read) me out.

I usually hate the idea of concerts accompanying sporting events—nobody at all went to the Home Run Derby in Kansas City Monday and said "My life will be ruined if I don't get to see Zac Brown perform a song before Chris Berman makes America's collective ears bleed "—but the modified nature and unknown locale of the CAA Tournament means the league will have to get creative in order to lure fans from out of town and out of state.

So why not a couple concerts? If the tournament remains scheduled for Saturday-Sunday-Monday (March 9-11), have an older band—like, say, and this is just an example, NIGHT RANGER—play a show Friday night to get the old farts such as myself into the host city. Then, after the tripleheader Saturday, have a concert headlined by a younger and hipper act (i.e. an artist whose music I've never heard GET OFF MY LAWN) to keep the college kids in town.

I'm sure organizing concerts is a logistical nightmare and it'll be a challenge to actually get people to go from the tourney site to wherever the concert is held. (Unless the concert takes place 30 minutes after the final game on the floor of the host arena, which would mean people writing on deadline during a concert. I sense I'm the only one who thinks that would be awesome.)

But this unique tournament requires a unique approach. So Santa Yeager, I implore you: Get Night Ranger to play the tournament, wherever it is located. No, I thought of this while completely sober. Why do you ask?

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