Conference Realignment Reset
As many of you know, we are just one of the many little corners of JMU fandom that has beating the dead conference realignment horse over and over for years now. Since we started this project in ’09, no other issue (not even losing a bid to Eastern Kentucky, the run/pass ratio, or even the closing of Dave’s or a soccer star marrying a guy from N’Sync) has even come close to causing us more disagreements, more conversations, more questions, more stress, and more general frustration than conference realignment. All the angles have been covered at one time or another so we won’t dive that deeply on any specific aspect again now. But for two reasons, we wanted to recap a few things and help prep the landscape for the next couple of months. Warning, this is long and there’s nothing really new here for those already following this matter intently. In short, it’s time to focus on hoops, but we’re hopeful/wishful that it’s time for things, or at least the soon-to-be-shattered dreams of Dukes fans, to be cranked up again.
First, we don’t want to talk about this the next couple of weeks with conference tournaments coming up for men’s and women’s hoops. The women are now ranked #1 in the national mid-major poll, and today’s shock-loss notwithstanding, have become one of the best JMU teams in any sport in a long time (seriously, what kind of bullshit publicity stunt is a weekday game at 11:30 a.m.?!). They have a chance to be special in the postseason. And if last year’s watered-down, but wide-open CAA men’s tourney taught us anything, it’s not to count our boys out just yet. Are there less favorable potential matchups on the men’s side? Sure. But is there really a team in the CAA that scares you with a combination of talent AND experience winning a title? Nope. In any case, the next two weeks are about basketball and with big games all the time, we’re not going to be reopening the conference box for every rumor. But…our second reason for recapping now is that it sure seems like the next month is going to be a goldmine of rumors, hints, and hopefully, an actual result that at long last doesn’t involve the letters C-A-A, at least not in that order. And yes, we’re aware that if JMU history tells us anything, it’s that we’re probably crying wolf at this point by even bringing it up again and we should all just try to convince ourselves that matchups in perpetuity with the Elon Fightin’ Christians are worth everything we all invest already and just shut up and like it.
But that said, here’s the rundown in bullet form:
– The CAA is a vindictive, spiteful league led by a pissed off little Tom Yeager and so any team that announces it’s leaving is immediately ineligible in all sports for conference championships and tournaments, and thus autobids to NCAA tournaments, for the rest of the time they are in that conference. JMU voted in favor of this rule and to a small extent benefitted from it last year so no whining about it now. But this is also the reason that when the January Board of Visitors meeting came and went with no announcement of a conference move, most of us haven’t expected anything till after the CAA hoops tourneys. Why not wait a month if that’s all that stands between you and an NCAA berth. At this point, Kenny Brooks’ team has a decent shot at an at-large berth, which the CAA does not control, but it’s no guarantee if they don’t participate in, and win, the CAA tourney. The men have to defend their title on the court in Baltimore this year. If you recall, George Mason announced it was leaving immediately following the end of hoops season last year and similar timing seems likely. Technically, a move MUST be made by June 1st to start the transition clock mandated by the NCAA in the 14-15 year, but with the season ticket deadline for football coming up on May 15th, if an announcement is to EVER be made, the six weeks between the end of the CAA tourney and that date seem most likely.
– Realistically, the field of potential destinations for JMU has been whittled down to two (more on that below), Conference USA (CUSA) and the Mid-American Conference (MAC). JMU has shown little interest in its one known suitor, the Sun Belt. And the AAC or anything else still seems out of reach, assuming of course you think that’s a step up from CUSA or the MAC in the first place.
– There are a ton of reasons including some new ones out there on the rumor mill (including that the MAC has just dropped an affiliate member for soccer thus reducing it’s membership in that sport to the NCAA minimum which seems to indicate they expect a new squad soon). And the clear focus on academic alignment highlighted by the Carr Report only reinforces our long-held thoughts that Alger and co. think more highly, and rightly so, of the MAC than CUSA on that front. Really, our thoughts from last year that the MAC is the best and most likely destination have only been bolstered in recent times. Depending on perspective and how much you choose to let ODuh supporters influence your beliefs, the MAC may be the only logical option left as CUSA may not be interested in expansion, or at least not with JMU. We’ve always thought JMU to the MAC was the admin’s top choice thanks to an actual academic pedigree, some reasonable level of stability, and the ESPN deal regardless and sometimes there’s a chicken and egg thing going on with who does or doesn’t want who here.
– For the millionth time, the CAA is not even crap, it’s worse than that. Simply put, JMU’s CURRENT spending levels are utterly preposturous for FCS and the CAA. If you want to argue that JMU should downshift it’s focus on athletics, that’s a valid position, but to argue that switching conferences at this point is somehow the point at which the dam breaks the other way just shows you don’t understand the issues. FCS is dead. While the G5 (the non-BCS conferences currently in FBS) will never be the same as the power conferences, that group has expanded rapidly and is set to settle for a while. If JMU misses out now, then you have to be alright with third-tier athletics as the FCS conferences are being shuffled backwards in the pecking order from their former (no longer current) second-tier status while the G5 takes that spot. Besides, a CAA w/out GMU, VCU, and ODU is no CAA. And a CAA with Charleston, Maine, Albany, and Northeastern is no cheap, easy travel conference when compared with a MAC East comprised of Ohio schools and maybe Delaware someday so stop with that bullshit.
– Two last things for sure: We’ll be watching with great interest today when the MAC’s newly renegotiated television deal with ESPN is possibly announced (renegotiated a couple years early we might add) and we’ll definitely be debuting some MAC/Yeager themed signs in Baltimore next week! We’d love to have company on this front!