With rumors swirling and talks heating up according to Brett McMurphy of CBSSports.com, I feel that it is high time I discuss some of my feelings on George Mason's potential move to the Atlantic 10 conference.
Before we get into the pros and cons, here's a quick background of what exactly is going on.
Obviously, the college landscape has shifted considerably over the last two years, thanks in large part due to a desire for schools and conferences to better their situations in terms of football.
The Pac-10 is now the Pac-12 with the addition of Colorado and Utah, and the Big East has proven that nothing is sacred in this conference arms race, losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia, while adding UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, and most recently, Temple.
The movement of Temple from the A-10 to the Big East is where our story begins. This created an opening in the A-10, and with Charlotte potentially moving to the Sun Belt as well, A-10 officials began to scramble in an effort to not only fill these slots, but to expand as well.
Enter Butler, VCU, and George Mason.
Combined, these three schools are some of the premiere mid majors in the country, with 12 NCAA tournament bids and four Final Fours since 2006 between them. These three teams also reside in conferences, the Horizon and Colonial, that typically receive one NCAA Tournament bid each year.
As of March 25th, all three teams have been in discussions with the A-10 about their interest in potentially joining the conference for the 2013-14 season.
Of course, this has now started debate among fanbases as to whether or not moving conferences is what is best for the teams.
For George Mason, there are plenty of pros and cons to joining the A-10.
Obviously, if this move were to happen, Mason would be playing a lot stronger competition within their conference. With schools such as Xavier, Dayton, Richmond, Saint Louis, and of course VCU and Butler, the top half of the conference will be absolutely loaded with talent.
This can be taken one of two ways by Mason fans.
On the one hand, the increased talent level of the teams will generate excitement and, most likely, high attendance among Mason fans. On the other, with potentially 16 teams and the higher level of play, winning the A-10 and its auto bid to the tournament will be exponentially more difficult than winning the CAA.
That being said, the A-10 puts a lot more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the CAA. This year alone, the A-10 had four teams in the dance, as opposed to the CAA's one. Since 2000, the A-10 has had 20 at large bids, whereas the CAA has had just four in that time, three of the four from Mason and VCU.
Part of the reason the A-10 gets more NCAA bids than the CAA is in the conference RPI, another advantage to Mason changing conferences. This year, the worst team in the A-10, Rhode Island, had an RPI of 256. Towson, the worst team in the CAA, had an RPI of 311. That upgrade alone is invaluable to making the A-10 the more respected conference.
Another plus would be that the conference tournament would no longer be in Richmond. Mason fans, as well as CAA fans in general, have griped for years that the CAA Tournament takes place in the Richmond Coliseum, a hop, skip, and a jump away from VCU's campus.
As a sidenote, Mason has never defeated VCU in the Richmond Coliseum since it began hosting the tournament in 1990, including losing to the Rams for the last four years.
For the A-10, the conference tournament will take place at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and with no teams from Brooklyn in the conference, this is truly a neutral site.
Speaking of conference tournaments, if George Mason makes this move, there may not be a CAA Tournament for them next season. In years past, when teams such as Richmond, ECU, or American signed deals to leave the CAA, they were not permitted to participate in the CAA Tournament, for fear that a team who is leaving the conference would be representing it.
Of course, if this situation occurred, Mason would still be eligible for the NCAA Tournament, but it would require an at large bid.
This is also a time where the CAA is starting to gain some steam. The conference just signed a television deal to have conference games aired by NBC Sports, and with little turnover in personnel from this season to next, there is speculation that the league will be a multi-bid conference next year.
The last major concerns Mason fans have is the loss of their old rivalries. Gone would be Mason's old school rivalry with JMU, as well as its budding rivalry with Old Dominion. With the A-10 being much more spread out than the Virginia-centered CAA, there would definitely be a lack of local rivalries.
Of course, with change would come possibilities for new rivalries. Mason would likely be in a division with Orange Line rival George Washington, and the yearly addition of Richmond to the schedule would make for a great in-state rivalry.
As for my personal opinion, I'm not sure how I feel about this potential move just yet.
I definitely see the advantages. If Mason can succeed in the A-10, the prestige would be much higher than it would be in the CAA, and it could really take this program to the next level.
I also feel that the Patriots can definitely compete in the A-10. They have proven in years past that they can beat some of the better teams in the conference, and Mason will have a senior laden team in 2013-14, giving them potential to make an early splash in a new conference.
The fear that I have is the risk. If Mason goes to the A-10 and it doesn't work, it could be devastating for the program. Moving to the A-10 is a jump that has no return, and must be considered carefully before pulling the trigger.
Overall, I'm not opposed to Mason joining the A-10, but I'm also not going to be heartbroken if they don't.
Either way, this is going to be a very interesting few weeks for mid majors in college basketball, and if Mason does take the leap, then I will fully support the school's decision and hope that the Patriots can prove to the world why they are considered one of the best mid major programs in the country.
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