RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Academic sanctions and potential defections could give the Colonial Athletic Association a drastically different look.
Two CAA schools — UNC Wilmington and Towson — are facing Academic Progress Rate sanctions that could keep them out of the men's basketball tournament next season, and VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion are talking behind closed doors about leaving the conference.
"It's all a little surreal," CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager said, particularly since it's coming only a year after the CAA was at its high point. The league sent three teams to the NCAA tournament last year and Virginia Commonwealth made a stunning Final Four run.
Yeager, who called a teleconference on March 26 to dismiss early defection talk making the rounds on social networks as "a non-story," said it's not just Joe Fan doing the talking now.
"Obviously they're having much more detailed campus discussions than we did a couple weeks ago," he said of VCU, George Mason and Old Dominion. The schools have won eight of the last nine CAA tournaments, and account for 13 of 16 NCAA bids since 2001. Wilmington has the others.
Barring a change in NCAA guidelines regarding APR penalties, Wilmington expects to miss next season's tournament, senior athletic director for communications Joe Browning said. The school has had two APR appeals denied; the NCAA plans to announce its sanctions in late June.
Towson is still waiting to hear on its appeal, athletic director Mike Waddell said.
With Georgia State already having left the league for the Sun Belt Conference, the loss of Towson and UNC Wilmington to APR sanctions would leave the CAA with just nine teams eligible for next year's tourney.
Yeager hopes that's as far as the attrition goes in the league's fight to stay relevant on the national basketball stage.
George Mason and VCU are interested in joining the Atlantic 10, which became more attractive as a conference that will continue to get multiple NCAA tournament bids with the addition of Butler.
Since Richmond left in 2001, the A-10 has received 18 at-large NCAA bids, the CAA four.
And Old Dominion, with an upstart football program, a 20,000-seat stadium that routinely sells out and a basketball program that has been near the top of the CAA for a decade or more, has acknowledged it is assessing its affiliation, and believed to be considering Conference-USA.
George Mason spokeswoman Maureen Nasser said the school has acknowledged that is assessing its conference affiliation, but would not comment further.
Yeager, whose conference also boasts the premier football league in the Championship Subdivision, has worked the phones tirelessly, but said even he doesn't know what will happen.
"I'm the optimist that we're ok, but who knows?" he said, noting that the resignation of Big East Commissioner John Marinatto on Monday is sure to fuel more questions about realignment.
"Watching what's going on around the country, it's crazy," Yeager said.