George Mason University stormed onto the college athletics scene during their historic run to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament in 2006. Fittingly enough, just as another mid-major in Florida Gulf Coast is amidst a historic run in March Madness, the Patriots have formally announced that they will be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for the Atlantic 10 for all sports, effective July 1.
Per the CAA’s official release, George Mason will forfeit its projected 2013 conference distribution of approximately $330,000 and future distributions (through 2017 totaling an additional $1.32 million). George Mason will also pay a minimum liquidated damages fee of at least $1,000,000. Total forfeited funds from the move will be no less than $2.65 million.
The $1 million damages fee became an effective CAA exit fee following VCU’s transition from the CAA to the Atlantic 10 this time last year. The exit fee was installed in hopes to dissuade institutions from leaving the CAA.
The school’s seven active spring sports teams will also be ineligible for conference postseason tournaments due to CAA bylaws.
Mason’s move to the A-10, while not acknowledged as such by athletic director Tom O’Connor or university President Dr. Angel Cabrera, comes as another domino in the creation of the “New Big East”. As Butler and Xavier will leave the A-10 for the New Big East for the 2013-2014 season, Mason will join the conference as a replacement for one of those institutions.
As a growing conference, the Atlantic 10 will certainly provide many opportunities for GMU as a member of its conference. This year, the Atlantic 10 had five schools receive bids to the NCAA Tournament.
The Atlantic-10 originally courted Mason last spring, but the university, an original founding member of the CAA, declined the invitation. Now with the move, only three of the CAA’s founding institutions, James Madison, William & Mary and UNCW, remain in the league. Mason’s departure also leaves the CAA with just nine teams in the conference.
Yeager said in a teleconference with media members on Monday that the conference could move forward during the 2013-2014 with just nine participating members, but they will engage in more efforts to add more university members.
This past fall, the conference was able to add the College of Charleston to the league in efforts to replace Old Dominion and Georgia State. While the Commissioner would not specify expansion plans, he did thoroughly state the league will be very open to and active in efforts to expand the conference with more institutions prior to the 2013-2014 academic year.
Moving forward, look for the conference to reach out to respective teams in the America East, Atlantic Sun and Big South conferences.