Georgia State coach Ron Hunter gathered his team together Tuesday and told his players that they are essentially on their own next season.
"I told them we're an independent," Hunter said. "That's what we are now. It's no fault of theirs. We made a move for football. And we're paying the consequences. The bad part is that this is the only league in the country where this is happening. From this point forward, we're an independent basketball team."
Technically, Georgia State and Old Dominion will be in the Colonial Athletic Association and play a league schedule. But they will not play in the conference tournament.
The CAA announced Tuesday that Georgia State and Old Dominion, both playing in a final season in the league before departing for the Sun Belt and Conference USA, would not be allowed to play in the conference tournament. Both schools can compete in the NIT, NCAA, College Basketball Invitational or CollegeInsider.com tournaments if they receive an invitation.
A source close to Georgia State said that the CAA decision Tuesday, which was unanimous by the presidents in the league, has forced the school to look at getting into the Sun Belt immediately for next season. Virginia Commonwealth left the CAA for the Atlantic-10 for the same reason, bypassing the bylaw.
New Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said there was discussion with Georgia State "several weeks ago but nothing has been determined" about speeding up membership to the fall of 2012.
The CAA bylaw has been on the books for more than a decade. The CAA reiterated in a release that in 2001, American, East Carolina and Richmond had to deal with this same bylaw.
"Since the 1988-89 season and including this coming season the WAC has had 15 teams play in championships after withdrawing from the league, four who did for two seasons in TCU, Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii," said Benson, who was the WAC commissioner until his recent switch to the Sun Belt. "Were there awkward times, yes, but to penalize student athletes and coaches who didn't have anything to do with the decision to change conferences just isn't right."
The CAA will have only seven eligible schools for the conference tournament because Towson and UNC Wilmington are also ineligible due to poor APR scores. The top seed will get a bye to the semifinals, and there will be three quarterfinal games in a seven-team tournament.
The location of the tournament is unknown. CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said Tuesday that he was told by the league presidents to look at an alternative site outside of Richmond, home of VCU, which is now off to the A-10. The league has a deal to play in Richmond through 2014. But now the CAA is looking at the Palestra in Philadelphia and Atlantic City as alternative sites.
"There's no specific timeline," Yeager said. "But the men's basketball tournament needs to be successful, and we need to evaluate the best place to put it."
ODU coach Blaine Taylor was just as irked as Hunter.
"They gave a 3-week-old weather report," Taylor said. "The league grandstanded so long to make a such a big announcement. We knew three weeks ago at the league meetings. They tried to look for every additional thing they could do. But the lack of collegial approach was eye-opening to me."
Taylor said the decision by ODU to bump up football made the move necessary.
"The CAA doesn't offer it," Taylor said. "It just seems very narrow-minded. They're hurting 17 sports. If you want to leave this league, you better do it like the Baltimore Colts in the middle of the night. Most of the leagues make everything seamless as possible. The CAA is a completely different act."
The CAA raised the exit fee to $1 million but not for the teams already leaving.
Taylor said an August trip to Italy and Greece now takes on even more meaning. He said ODU will have to focus on nonconference games like VCU and Richmond at home, Virginia in Richmond and at Cleveland State. The Monarchs have made the NCAA tournament before without winning the conference tournament.
"I've never tried to build my season around being a one-hit wonder over a weekend," Taylor said of the conference tournament.
But the CAA is still a possible one-bid league, making it harder for either school to earn an NCAA tournament bid without a chance to make the conference tournament. The Big East banned Connecticut from the conference tournament, but the Huskies aren't eligible for the postseason because of a poor APR score. Departing members in the Big 12 were allowed to play in the conference tournament this past March.
"I've been coaching 19 years as a head coach and as talented a team as I've had," Hunter said. "I can't wait to coach these kids, regardless of who we will play. We'll be fine. I told the team that I'm going to coach with a chip on my shoulder all year. I'm going to tell our team to play every game like an NCAA tournament game."
Hunter said his team will be young but extremely talented. His confidence in the squad has increased so much that he changed the schedule recently by adding opening games at Duke and at BYU.
"I've got five really good freshmen, and we're going to throw them into the wolves," Hunter said. "We'll be an independent anyway, so we'll see what happens."