By SPIRO MOREKAS
The Colonial Athletic Association is wrapping up its annual meetings this week in South Carolina. Normally, conference staff members, Athletic Directors, administrators and coaches attend these gatherings and combine some work with some fun.
Not this year.
This year has been very different for conferences like the CAA. Several months ago, the CAA consisted of 12 full-time members: Delaware, Drexel, George Mason, Georgia State, Hofstra, James Madison, Northeastern, Old Dominion, UNC Wilmington, William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth and of course, Towson.
As we all know, the CAA has taken some hits to its conference membership over the few months.
First, Georgia State left the CAA to join the Sun Belt Conference.
Then, rumors were rampant that George Mason and VCU were leaving to join the Atlantic-10 Conference. As it turned out, that rumor was only half-true. One of the CAA's charter members, George Mason announced it was staying in the CAA. However, VCU left for join the Atlantic-10.
That reduced the CAA to ten members.
Finally, Old Dominion announced it was leaving the CAA to join Conference-USA, a rather curious move. ODU is giving up long-time rivalries with James Madison, William and Mary and UNC Wilmington to join a conference that includes four schools located in Texas, including Southern Methodist, Texas El Paso, Houston and Rice.
You have to wonder when all this conference jumping is going to end.
If you follow the path of what has gone on in the past five years or so, it will of course lead you to money - TV money, Big TV money. In actuality, it is BIG TV football money.
With the BCS all but formally announcing the format for a four team playoff at the FBS level, the major conferences have been scrambling, trying to assemble the most powerful conference possible.
Geography seems to be the least of their concerns.
It doesn’t matter that the Big East now stretches from New York City to San Diego, California. It isn't important that the Atlantic Coast Conference will soon have Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The last time I was in Pittsburgh, I don’t remember seeing any signs for the beach.
But all of these conferences are doing what they have to do to chase the big football money.
Then is all trickles down to the so-called “mid-majors”. We are seeing it first-hand here at Towson.
But it’s not the first time that Towson has gone through this.
Back in the early 1990’s, the Tigers saw the disintegration of the East Coast Conference. I believe it was a conference Towson loved being in. It was all bus trips, many of which would be just a day trip with no hotels involved, and there were rivalries. There were only eight schools in the league, and you would play everybody twice. Towson would play Bucknell, Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Lafayette, Lehigh and Rider in every sport.
For the Tigers, it was their evolution as a Division I program. The Tiger men's basketball team had problems those first few years, first under Vince Angotti, and then under Terry Truax.
But as the Tigers got better, so did the enthusiasm on campus. We all saw this past football season what success can do to bring a campus and community together.
In 1988, I remember wanting so badly to beat a Lehigh team led by Mike Polaha and Daren Queenan. The Lehigh fans used to hang a P up every time Polaha scored and Q every time Queenan scored. P's and Q’s, get it?
In 1990 and 1991, Towson made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament after winning the East Coast Conference championship. In both of those seasons, the Tigers were fortunate to host the ECC championship game in the Towson Center before large crowds and a national audience on ESPN. The championship game wins touched off wild celebrations (right).
When the ECC went out of existence, the Tigers moved to the Big South Conference. Towson was good in basketball ... Very good. Coach Truax’s teams went 14-2 in conference play their first two seasons and won the regular season titles.
But you could sense a difference. It’s a difference that I think is happening around the country in college athletics with all this conference jumping. The enthusiasm of those ECC days was gone. Nobody in Towson could identify with Winthrop, or Campbell.
As a matter of fact, many Tiger fans had never even heard of these schools.
When I was a teenager in the 1970’s and even through the 1980’s, the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament was a huge event. It was almost bigger than the NCAA Tournament.
It was the toughest ticket in college basketball. It had been the same seven teams (Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Virginia and Wake Forest) for years. In 1982, Georgia Tech was added to make it an eight-team league going into the 1990's.
Now, you can basically walk up to the ticket window on the first day of the tournament and buy a ticket. The ACC, like all the big conferences, has become too big.
Sure, Duke vs. Carolina is always going to be one of the best rivalries in college hoops, but do Tar Heel fans really get excited about playing the University of Miami?
Old Dominion fans and VCU fans will be in the same boat. Instead of those two playing each other home and home in conference games, now Monarch fans are going to have to get geared up to play North Texas? The buzz at the TED will be a low hum.
No way VCU fans will get as hyped about playing LaSalle or Duquesne as they did for Old Dominion.
We will almost certainly see the CAA expand over the next couple of
seasons. Luckily for Tiger fans, we still have long standing relationships with
many in the conference. Delaware, Drexel and Hofstra have Towson rivals in the ECC, America East, and now the CAA. Those matchups will always have a special meaning.
Towson has been playing James Madison in many sports for 30 years. Maybe I am old fashioned, but I believe these long-term opponents help to build rivalries and tradition.
Let’s just hope the conference carousel ends soon.