Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth have turned their backs on the Colonial Athletic Association, and left the conference with few options
Two weeks have passed in the new era of Colonial basketball.
Virginia Commonwealth deked the conference by skipping its supposed deadline of May 1, and then announcing it was leaving in the middle of the month. The Rams aren't just leaving, they are getting out of town faster than the Irsays left Baltimore with the Colts for Indianapolis.
VCU will begin play in the Atlantic 10 next year, to be joined by fellow Cinderella story Butler during the 2013-14 season.
Not to be outdone, the other bastion of Colonial basketball, Old Dominion decided it is ready for the big time. The Monarchs will be moving to Conference USA in 2013. The move comes along with a jump in status for the school's football team, one that will make 2011's 10-3 record seem like the good old days.
The loss of the Rams and Monarchs is a big blow. The league can still survive without its main draw, without its best coach, without its seemingly perennial NCAA Tournament participant. It won't be the same though, even if George Mason is still around.
Despite the expansion of the league with the addition of Towson, Drexel, Hofstra and Delaware, the power center has always been in Virginia. Without Virginia Commonwealth and OId Dominion, the league will be running on two cylinders and belching a whole lot of noxious fumes along the way.
No, it isn't long before someone calls the code on the conference The teams that joined this league did so to improve their lot in life. They were getting out of the America East. They were joining a league that offered FCS football prestige and stronger basketball challenges. They just haven't been up to the task in either.
Hofstra cut its football team, and Drexel was the first northern invader to win the regular season conference title since the four joined in 2001. That is 11 years without a true contender, at least one that could last for more than a season at a time. Hofstra has threatened, Drexel too. But none of the four has been strong enough to be thought of on the level of Virginia Commonwealth.
And the named options for the conference to possibly expand back to its current levels are not going to help much. Grabbing another couple of teams from the America East is just taking leftovers. Boston University and Stony Brook will not help the conference maintain its current profile.
Dipping South into the Southern Conference and potentially stealing Davidson and College of Charleston is a better bet, but there are no guarantees of sustained success there either.
The Colonial is just stuck in a big way, and probably should play a season or two without the two marquis draws and see how it responds before reaching out and picking low-hanging fruit from somewhere else. Only then will it be able to decide on its true identity and where it should be focused for whatever expansion it targets.
As for the Rams, well, you have to admire their gumption. They are passing up a lot of money to make this move, a move that will have them saying goodbye to mid-major status. Oh, you can believe that the Atlantic 10 is a mid-major league if you want. The truth is a lot different.
Since 2000, the Atlantic 10 has averaged almost 3 bids a season. Only in 2002 and 2005 did the league get one invite to the dance. That isn't a mid-major. That is a league that consistently gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the strength and quality of its play.
With the addition of Virginia Commonwealth, you can almost guarantee that the league will see at least two bids in 2013. The Rams were to be among the favorites in the Colonial again, and Shaka Smart isn't going to allow them to let up just because the margin for error is greater.
With Butler coming along after next season, you can guarantee the league to have three bids at a minimum for the near future (and if the Big East blows up, that number could go even higher).
This was a bold move by VCU, one that will pay off in the long run, and will have the school forgetting about the $5 million it passed up to make it.
As for the rest of the Colonial, maybe that money the Rams left behind can buy some happiness.