VCU president Michael Rao says the A-10 is “the next step” for the Rams. (Steve Helber/AP)

VCU president Michael Rao announced the move Tuesday, calling it “the next step” for a program that reached the Final Four in 2011 and returned to the round-of-32 in March.

Commissioner Bernadette McGlade welcome the Rams as “a perfect fit for the Atlantic 10 Conference.”

Unlike several of the conference realignment moves already in process that are expected to take at least on full year, VCU’s departure will take effect on July 1, 2012. The move will cost the school as much as $5 million over the next six years from shares earned for NCAA tournament success.

“The expected returns are far greater than the short-term losses,” Rao said.

As late as Monday night, CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager had not been contacted by VCU regarding the move, but said should the Rams elect to remain in the league for one more year before moving, they would not be eligible to compete in the conference tournament.

The move makes sense for VCU as it leaves a league with only four at-large bids since 2000 compared to 20 for the Atlantic 10. The A-10 is also home to intra-city rival Richmond, which will create more buzz for both programs.

In a statement released by the school, men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart said he is “extremely excited by the opportunity to join the Atlantic 10. It is a phenomenal league made up of programs with both rich traditions and recent track records of success.”

The Rams will compete in 16 of the A-10’s 21 championship sports.

Yeager told’s Andy Katz that VCU will pay a $250,000 exit fee. Fellow CAA member George Mason announced last week it would remain in the conference while Old Dominion is continuing to mull its options.

With the addition of VCU, the A-10 will balloon to 15 schools for the 2012-13 school year — including three schools nicknamed the Rams (Rhode Island, Fordham and now VCU).

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