No conference excels at men's basketball and Championship Subdivision football like the Colonial Athletic Association. None. Moreover, from commissioner Tom Yeager down, the league teems with bright, engaging and honorable people.
Those are among the many reasons to hope the CAA's core members recommit to one another rather than splinter to other conferences of varying fits.
VCU and George Mason soon will bolt to the Atlantic 10. Those shifts, the sources suspect, would force others, such as Old Dominion, James Madison and William and Mary, to ponder moving.
As we've learned in the last several years, this is how realignment works. One or two conferences and schools get ambitious/greedy/bored and start trolling. Next thing you know, dominoes fall and leagues are decimated.
"This would be just another bad step in college athletics," a source said. "It's going to be a disaster. … We are just maiming ourselves. It makes no sense."
Bank on Yeager working OT to keep the family together, and not just for personal reasons. Because the CAA is worth saving.
Since 2003, conference schools have won four national football championships. Also in that span, three CAA teams were playoff runners-up.
Better yet, this isn't the work of a singular dynasty. This is a collective.
The national champions were Delaware, James Madison, Richmond and Villanova. Massachusetts and Delaware (twice) finished second.
Poor William and Mary. Twice the Tribe has reached the playoff final four, only to encounter a CAA rival – W&M lost to JMU in 2004 and Villanova in '09.
CAA basketball is equally collaborative. Naturally, Final Four runs by George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011 are most renowned, but that's hardly the extent of the league's postseason success.
Since 1988, CAA teams have won 18 NCAA tournament games. ODU bounced Notre Dame in 2010 and nearly did the same two days later to Baylor. Ditto 1995, when the Monarchs shocked Villanova in triple-overtime before falling to Tulsa.
UNC Wilmington upset Southern California in 2003, and former conference member Richmond defeated Georgia Tech and Indiana to reach the 1988 Sweet 16. Three years later, the Spiders became the first No. 15 seed to advance, dismissing No. 2 Syracuse.
In addition to their Final Four years, VCU and George Mason boast NCAA conquests of Duke and Villanova, respectively.
The future could be get-the-sunglasses bright as well. VCU has thrived during coaching transitions from Jeff Capel to Anthony Grant to Shaka Smart. George Mason and ODU also appear built for the long haul, while Drexel should be formidable next season at least.
In football, JMU. Delaware and New Hampshire are consistent forces, and fledgling ODU made the 2011 playoffs in only Year 3 of the program's revival.
Certainly Yeager is preaching these and other CAA virtues to the power brokers at George Mason and VCU. But what if the Patriots and Rams are convinced to join with the Horizon League's Butler to make the Atlantic 10 arguably college basketball's strongest conference outside the power six of the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pacific 12 and Southeastern?
The answer is, no one knows for sure. But sources outlined many possibilities.
Premature and risky though it would be, JMU, ODU and Delaware might consider forming a new, all-sports Bowl Subdivision conference with the likes of Liberty (itching to upgrade from the Big South) and East Carolina (tired of life in geographically disparate Conference USA).
If such a league didn't materialize — hard to imagine ESPN shelling out for markets such as Lynchburg and Harrisonburg — ODU might angle for inclusion in the Atlantic 10, while hoping CAA football stays intact. Failing that, the Monarchs could join ECU in Conference USA, which figures to look dramatically different after impending realignments of the Western Athletic and Mountain West.
If George Mason, VCU and/or others bail, how might the CAA respond? Davidson, which reached the 2008 Elite Eight with Stephen Curry, would be one potential target.
Would William and Mary be content in a CAA that didn't include VCU, George Mason, JMU, ODU and Delaware? Would the Tribe's academic standards fit better with Patriot League schools such as Bucknell, Lehigh and Lafayette?
Here's hoping those questions never need answers, that Yeager can summon his inner Martin Brodeur and save the CAA.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP