“One of the hardest phone calls I’ve ever had to make,” O’Connor said. “Tom Yeager is a great guy and one of my best friends in the world. But we have to move on and we have to move on with business.”
Exactly. Thanks for the memories — Mason was one of the CAA’s founding schools in 1985 — but we can’t be left behind in the Great Money Chase. Which is exactly what this is, no matter how many hundreds of times the drone presidents talk about what is best for the “student-athletes.”
In the case of Mason, those athletes who participate in spring sports won’t be eligible to compete for conference championships because a CAA bylaw makes it impossible for athletes at schools leaving the conference to compete for a conference championship. That’s a loss, especially for the seniors, that goes well beyond the $1 million exit fee Mason will be paying.
“That part of it is agonizing,” said O’Connor, who met with the spring sports athletes on Monday morning to tell them the situation. “I apologize to all the athletes affected and plan to meet with them again.” Later, O’Connor returned to the subject and said, “There’s definitely short-term pain, but we believe there will be long-term gain.”
He was referring to what the Atlantic 10 move will do for Mason sports in general, but this was a basketball decision just as the moves made by other schools have been either football or basketball decisions. GMU decided against jumping leagues last spring even though it could have gone to the Atlantic 10 along with longtime CAA rival Virginia Commonwealth.
But a year ago Alan Merten was still the president of George Mason and he believed the school needed to stay loyal to the CAA and that Yeager, who is one of college athletics’ most respected commissioners, would keep the league off of the realignment rocks. Merten retired in July, replaced by Cabrera, who made a point Monday of saying he knew only the current circumstances, nothing about the past. Merten was an exception to the rule: a college president who believed that tradition and history matter, too.
The CAA has been hammered in the last 12 months by VCU’s departure, by two football defections — Old Dominion and Georgia State — and now by Mason’s decision to leave. Two years ago the league received three NCAA men’s basketball tournament bids: Old Dominion, George Mason and VCU, which reached the Final Four. This year, James Madison, its tournament champion, was a No. 16 seed.