Elon joins CAA in latest expansion move
When Elon looked at the ever-changing landscape of college athletics and the possibility that the dominoes from conference realignments will just keep on falling, an invitation to join the Colonial Athletic Association became more about the fit for the Phoenix than the future.
"What conference is not subject to change right now?" Phoenix athletic director Dave Blank said Thursday after the school announced it is leaving the Southern Conference to become an all-sports member of the CAA in 2014-15.
"In our analysis, and in our decision, we were looking strictly at what was best for our institution. We had to make that decision not knowing with the Southern Conference is going to look like and not knowing what the Colonial Athletic Association is going to look like," Blank said.
"We felt it was more important to say where do we fit best? Where do we serve our university and our student-athletes best?"
The announcement on the school's North Carolina campus was "a big day for Elon," President Leo M. Lambert said. He called the CAA a "venerable athletic conference" and said the league is "an ideal fit for Elon," particularly since 56 percent of Elon's enrollment next year will hail from within the CAA footprint.
That familiarity with opponents, as well as the ability for parents to see their kids play, weighed heavily in the decision
"In many cases, our student-athletes will now be playing against friends from their hometowns and even against high school classmates," Blank said.
The addition of Elon will give the CAA 10 basketball schools and 12 in football.
Elon is the second school to leave the Southern Conference for the CAA. College of Charleston is joining as an all-sports member next season. The Southern Conference's losses don't stop there, either, with the league also having recently lost Davidson, one of its strongest basketball programs, to the Atlantic 10. That was after seeing its primary football powerhouses, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, leave for the Sun Belt Conference in the past year.
Southern Conference Commissioner John Iamarino said that in a release that "our core group remains firmly committed to each other and to the academic and athletic success of the Southern Conference. We are preparing specific initiatives to achieve that success."
The CAA has been scrambling to add members after losing Georgia State, VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion in the past 13 months.
"We are thrilled that you have accepted our invitation," CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager said at the press conference.
Yeager said in the climate of change, universities and leagues have taken a pro-active stance, with conferences always looking at the profiles of other universities, and universities doing likewise with conferences. He says the CAA leadership has "no magic number or ceiling in mind" for its membership.
Yeager said when Stony Brook and Albany were added for football last August that he was turning his attention to replenishing the basketball membership.
The league held its conference basketball tournament this season with just seven eligible teams because Old Dominion was disqualified from participating as a departing member and two other teams — N.C. Wilmington and Towson — were ineligible for postseason play because of academic sanctions.
With the recent additions, Yeager thinks the league is on steady ground again.
"I think we are," he said. "I really do."