Is the CAA's realignment decision unfair?

On Tuesday, Colonial Athletic Association commissioner Tom Yeager delivered the bad news. The CAA's members had organized a pow-wow, held a vote, and reached a decision about the championship eligibility of the schools (Old Dominion and Georgia State, specifically) leaving the conference this season.

In the end, as Yeager announced, the vote merely reaffirmed the league's bylaws, which state that "upon notice of an institution’s intent to withdraw, the institution’s teams become ineligible on a date determined by the remaining members to compete for Association team championships." In other words, ODU and Georgia State will be frozen out of conference tournament play this season. They can still go to the NCAA tournament and other postseason events, but if they do, that participation will be invite-only -- a long shot for either of the schools involved.

Needless to say, Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor and Georgia State coach Ron Hunter were not thrilled with the decision. They shared their mutual displeasure with Andy Katz Wednesday morning:

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."

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." [...]

"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."

See? Not thrilled. Not thrilled at all.

Hunter and Taylor have a point, one our own Dana O'Neil made in late May, when the same issue precipitated VCU's quicker-than-anticipated jump to the Atlantic 10. The recipients of the real harm by this decision are the student-athletes, who are being punished for little more than bad timing. In particular, the seniors on both teams -- for whom the 2012-13 season would be a last chance at a conference title and NCAA tournament berth -- must feel especially bad. They did nothing wrong. They have no part in their school's decision. And yet they essentially lose a season to between-conference limbo, and why? So the CAA can try to close ranks and prevent itself from a future realignment raid. It's entirely unfair.

But who is really to blame? The CAA? Or the schools that chose to leave the conference in the first place? CAA Hoops -- the go-to blog for daily in-depth Colonial analysis -- sees things differently:

But as we’ve maintained from the start, the blood is on the hands of the Old Dominion and Georgia State administrators. They knew the rule going into their discussions about moving to a new conference. This was certainly a part of their internal discussions. They chose to move forward anyway with this risk known. [...]

This wasn’t a rule passed at a point in time that ODU and GSU could plausibly say was after they began looking for a new home. It predates Georgia State’s entry into the conference.

We’ve had 11 seasons that this could’ve been addressed, if it was indeed a big deal. There’s also something to be said for consistency. The CAA has driven right down Main Street with its decisions. Nobody can complain of any unfair treatment.

It should be noted the Colonial isn't gaining much from this decision; without Georgia State and ODU (and Towson and UNC-Wilmington, who will miss out thanks to poor APR scores), the league will field just seven teams in its 2013 conference tournament.

Really, the decision is about enforcement -- about where to draw the line when your league's future may be at stake. At the end of the day, the Colonial is more a victim of realignment than a victor. Faced with the trickle-down economics of conference realignment, when attractive schools are greedily gobbled by leagues higher and higher up the food chain, the CAA is merely trying to create some sort of defensive structure -- a moat around its castle, so to speak. You can hardly fault them for that, no more than you can for enforcing a decade-old rule.

You can understand the CAA's prerogative while still feeling that the student-athletes involved are getting a bum deal. This is realignment, and all that comes with it. The worst part: I can't think of a good solution. Can you?