Examining the conference realignment rumor mill: is the CAA going to decimate the SoCon?

Let’s take a quick look at the latest wild speculation in the never-ending game of conference musical chairs…

Andy Katz of ESPN had this to say in a blog post on June 18:

CAA commissioner Tom Yeager is actively looking at expansion and, according to Davidson coach Bob McKillop, was on the Charlotte-area campus. But no formal offer was given, and it’s unclear if Davidson would accept since it is comfortable in the Southern Conference. The CAA is also looking at Charleston and, according to sources, Furman and Elon are on a lengthy list. However, Stony Brook makes the most sense if it wants to link up its northern teams with Hofstra.

That’s right, Furman and Elon have now joined the College of Charleston and Davidson as schools being connected to a move to the CAA (along with Stony Brook of the America East). This Katzian nugget in itself wouldn’t have started a Twitter fire, but it was followed a couple of hours later by this tweet:

CAA fans shouldn’t be surprised if Stony Brook, Elon, Charleston, Davidson & Furman ALL join the CAA, per sources

The tweet’s author runs the site CollegeSportsInfo.com; I am not sure how good his sources would be, although I don’t think he’s exactly in the same league with Brett McMurphy. (Then again, who is?)

Nevertheless, the tweet got a lot of play in the world of Twitter and on message boards everywhere.

One thing I want to note in passing, however, is the rather strong “we’re in the America East to stay” vibe coming from Stony Brook’s AD in the Katz story. Of course, it’s not like he’s going to say that Stony Brook can’t wait to ditch its current league for the CAA, but it’s not a non-committal stance, either.

If Furman, Davidson, Elon, and the CofC all left the SoCon, the conference would look like this:

Appalachian State
Georgia Southern
The Citadel
Western Carolina
UNC-Greensboro (no football)

Considering that both Appalachian State and Georgia Southern want to move to an FBS conference in the near future, it’s obvious that losing all four of those schools (particularly the three private schools, which play football) would seriously hurt the league.

Assuming that any of these rumors have any validity is dangerous, but I can see why CAA commissioner Tom Yeager might be trying to make such a bold play. His problem, from my perspective, is that while the CAA may have a certain appeal to the College of Charleston, one of his two believed main target schools, the current CAA lineup doesn’t appear to  impress Davidson, the other school most observers think is on the primary CAA wishlist.

I wrote about much of that a month ago. I didn’t account for the possibility that the CAA might employ a different kind of strategy — namely, flush out Davidson from the Southern Conference by attempting to decimate that league by inviting other SoCon schools, which would also make the CAA more palatable to Davidson (and to current Colonial member UNC-Wilmington).

Such a grandstand play by the CAA, if successful, would be bad news for The Citadel, which would find itself in a hollowed-out shell of a SoCon, and one that would be difficult to reconstruct in a manner that would be acceptable for the military college. It would be so unsatisfactory that I think The Citadel would have to hope for a (perhaps unlikely) CAA invite of its own, even though that league includes schools as far away as Northeastern (980 miles from Charleston), Hofstra (793 miles), and Drexel (680 miles).

In addition, those schools are much larger than The Citadel (or Furman or Davidson). Drexel has well over 20,000 students (as does fellow CAA member Towson and possible invitee Stony Brook). Northeastern and Hofstra are also bigger, urban schools. None of them have any historic ties to The Citadel.

They don’t have any to Furman, Davidson, or Elon, either — which begs the question, is it really worth it for any/all of those three schools to make such a leap of faith?

Honestly, I don’t think it is, and for that reason I’m just a bit skeptical that such a major move is going to happen.

The CAA does have things that the SoCon currently does not — some immediate cash on hand, a modest TV contract with NBC Sports, and the promise of a new digital network. The last of those might be the most important thing of all in the long run, and is something the Southern Conference needs to develop if it wants to remain relevant.

On the other hand, familiarity matters. So does geography, despite what you may read. Sure, the BCS conferences have occasionally pulled off moves that made little geographic sense, but they made those moves despite that, not because of it. There was enough money being thrown around to overcome such issues.

At the mid-major (or low-major) level, however, that’s not the case. Creating an FCS league that stretches for the better part of 1000 miles would be foolhardy, in my opinion. I could be wrong about that. I’ve been wrong before. It just seems nonsensical, though.

In reading a variety of messageboards, just seeing what ideas/rumors/silliness were out there, a couple of things about Furman were mentioned that interested me, and seemed believable. One suggestion is that FU is institutionally concerned about what would happen to the SoCon if the CofC/Appy/Georgia Southern move. The folks in Greenville want to make sure any replacement school(s) would be acceptable to Furman.

That leads to the second point, which is that Furman wants to be in a league with “like-minded” schools. I am not sure the CAA can offer that to the Paladin faithful. I tend to think that if Furman waits for a couple of years, though, the SoCon may start to more fully resemble that school”s ideal.

All of this discussion may be for nothing, but if there is something to it, Gen. Rosa and Larry Leckonby must be out in front of any potential major movement within the league. This type of conference upheaval could affect athletics at The Citadel for many years to come. Standing pat is not the way to go.