Men's basketball coach Shaka Smart refuses to take full credit for VCU's move to the "premier" Atlantic 10, but he recognized his team's success -- a Final Four appearance in 2011 and another NCAA tournament bid this past season -- boosted the entire athletic program's stock in the eyes of its new conference.
"I do think basketball played a significant role," Smart said during a Friday teleconference. "I think it made us a popular candidate for the Atlantic 10. The success that we have certainly is critical to the athletic program, and we know the expectations on us will be even greater than they were before this move."
Speaking with reporters for the first time since VCU announced the move earlier this week, Smart said he backed the university's decision to leave the CAA this summer, as opposed to 2013, because of the conference's rules on tournament participation for members exiting the league. The Rams would have been excluded from the league tournament this upcoming season had they decided to leave the conference in 2013.
"I didn't feel like it was right to go into the locker room and tell our seniors, 'You're not going to be able to participate in the conference tournament,' " he said.
"That was certainly the main reason."
So the Rams will compete in the A-10 during the 2012-13 season, a rapid transition that's posed some scheduling challenges for the program, according to Smart.
But the coach is "99 percent" certain VCU will play at Old Dominion in 2012-13. Old Dominion will leave the CAA for Conference USA in 2013.
Smart said VCU also has contacted current CAA member George Mason about a possible matchup.
The coach said he believes VCU will maintain its rivalries but also acknowledged the program has encountered some criticism for its decision.
"This is a bold move that we at VCU have made," Smart said. "And I think there certainly are some people that don't like the move we made."
That hasn't deterred the Rams.
Smart said the transition to the A-10 is positive for both VCU and its new league.
"I do think that there's a [depth] of high-quality basketball teams in the Atlantic 10 and those teams are going to continue with the momentum they have and it's going to be a competitive league," he said.