The Colonial Athletic Association, like so many other mid-major college hoops conferences, suddenly finds itself at a crossroads. Conference realignment on both coasts has moved on from the football-driven musical chairs game played by BCS big boys and has now begun to trickle down to places where football isn't even on the radar. The Big East takes teams from the Atlantic-10 and Conference USA, so the A-10 and C-USA turn around and take teams from leagues smaller than itself.
That's the idea, anyway. Turns out, George Mason has other plans. The CAA stalwart was among three teams being considered -- and considering -- a move to the Atlantic-10, along with Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion. Both of those schools have yet to announce their intentions, but Mason ended the speculation this afternoon, announcing in a statement that it would turn down other leagues' advances and remain in the Colonial:
Athletic director Tom O'Connor says a committee of senior officials assessed the goals and priorities of the Virginia school and decided that the CAA best met George Mason's interests.
He says the panel felt George Mason's status as a founding member of the league was important. It also concluded that the geography and competitiveness of the league provides stability and that the future of the conference is "exciting." [...]
"Through this process we've engaged in open communication with senior executives at George Mason University," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said in a statement. "We respected the process George Mason University went through and are pleased it decided that continued membership in the CAA is in the best interest of the university and its athletic programs."
Pretty straightforward stuff, sure, but it does give CAA fans reason to rejoice. The loss of a founding member is a sure sign your league is in trouble (just ask John Marinatto), and if Mason had decided to leave, would VCU and ODU have been far behind?
Those schools still have to make their own decisions, but if Old Dominion's poised and altogether reasonable stance remains at the fore, there's a good chance all three schools could return to the comfy confines of the Colonial. If that happens, one of the nation's best mid-major hoops leagues -- one that sent four teams to the NCAA tournament as recently as 2011 -- could continue its rise to national relevance without making a major realignment move of its own. In any case, the goal for smaller, less protected leagues like this is simple: survival. The CAA may yet come out of this realignment mess intact.