Reports surfaced over the weekend that Old Dominion had inquired about membership in a rebuilt Conference USA, leaving the CAA conference that they had just joined in football behind. Their football program entered the league last fall and now appears poised to join Georgia State (who join this fall) in moving their program to FBS. Brett McMurphy of CBS has reported that an announcement of new C-USA additions could come as soon as this week, with Old Dominion and Charlotte upgrading their programs to join.
Dave Fairbank of the Newport News, VA-based Daily Press has said that the Old Dominion move is not yet completed or imminent. It remains on the table, however, and discussions are underway, but HamptonRoads.com's Ed Miller says that ODU is "not ready to make a decision on [C-USA] yet." The Monarchs have spoken to "well over half" of the 31 Division I conferences at this point, according to their athletic director.
C-USA is pressuring the Virginia school to make a decision quickly and apparently ECU's AD, Terry Holland is pushing both sides to consummate the arrangement. Other unnamed schools are also apparently in the mix as C-USA looks to bring its membership count to 14.
The two upstart football programs would join Florida International, Louisiana Tech, North Texas, and UT-San Antonio as reinforcements for the conference that was heavily raided by the Big East earlier this year. C-USA tried to work out a merger with the Mountain West, but recent reports suggest that that merger is off, which means that both conferences are left to their own resources to expand back to workable membership numbers — which could lead to the demise of the WAC.
It appears that the Old Dominion exit from the CAA is likely related to the belief that VCU and George Mason will also be leaving the conference to head to the Atlantic-10. That move would dramatically alter the basketball quality of the CAA. ODU has had aspirations of elevating their football program to the FBS level since starting the team a few years ago, but is willing to accelerate their move now that their current conference appears less stable and lucrative.
If the moves happen, it will drop CAA football membership to just 8 teams in 2013 and could signal further departures or instability.
Tom Yeager, the CAA commissioner, has reportedly been working with members on a plan to respond to the changes in conference membership. The loss of ODU further changes those plans. The inclusion of Charlotte in the C-USA expansion plans further clouds the CAA's future, as the 49ers had been a potential CAA Football inclusion since they announced plans to start their program. Charlotte is reportedly prepared to announce a move
C-USA's moves also affect Sun Belt membership and that conference is reportedly considering Appalachian State and Georgia Southern to join the conference now as well. Both are powerhouse FCS football programs that might have allowed the CAA to rebuild its ranks with some strong football schools.
The CAA has football members remaining in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Maine. The conference may look north for new members, where Stony Brook and Fordham offer full-scholarship football already and the Patriot League schools are moving toward a 60-scholarship limit. The NEC and Pioneer League also offer limited-scholarship football at Northeastern schools.
The CAA could also look south to the Southern Conference or Big South for teams as well. Liberty University has had a strong football program out of the Big South recently and may be interested in a move, but the conference may also be wary of their interest in FBS football and location in Virginia, which is already home to three conference teams.
In the SoCon, the CAA may still have enough football credibility to woo Appalachian State and Georgia Southern — if the Sun Belt doesn't get them first. Davidson offers a solid basketball program, but their football program is currently at the non-scholarship Pioneer League level. Elon and Furman also have had some football success in the SoCon, but both are smaller private schools.