The Colonial, or CAA as it’s most commonly known, has always been a beacon of Virginia’s mid-major schools. At one point, six of the fine institutions in the Commonwealth were members.
In 2001, the University of Richmond left for the Atlantic 10. The Spiders’ city-mate, Virginia Commonwealth, will join them there next season.
Old Dominion will venture to Conference USA the year after next.
What’s left in Virginia in the CAA will be George Mason, James Madison, and William & Mary.
It’s all a casualty of the new movement in major collegiate athletics: get out while the getting is good.
However, it’s sad to see in the Commonwealth. Aside from the divide between UVA and Virginia Tech, the locals tune in to see what the CAA schools will do, especially in basketball. The unity of the state usually pulls for the local team that lands a spot in March Madness, not just defined to one institution.
When those schools battle it out in the conference championship at the old Richmond Coliseum, the state’s interest is high.
With five schools in the CAA and the tournament taking place in the state capital, the likelihood of a Virginia school making the final was always high.
Look back at the past winners of the CAA and you’ll see that 22 of the 29 men’s basketball champions have been from within the state. It’s a proud tradition, despite an outsider’s indifference.
Outside of the conference tournament, the state has cheered on numerous Cinderellas and been a part of some thrilling rides.
The first 15-seed to beat a two seed was Richmond. Two of the other five were Hampton and Norfolk State, schools separated by mere miles.
George Mason made it to the Final Four; VCU did the same just five years later.
In a state without a major basketball power and years since the last (Ralph Sampson’s UVA teams), the mid-majors mean something.
While all the schools who have done damage from the state aren’t in the CAA, the conference has always been a place where a Virginia sports fan could hang a hat.
Now, things have changed and the institutions that have hit the road are welcome to their riches. It’s commendable that VCU would jump up into a better conference and gain more respect. It will only add more fuel to the school’s rivalry with Richmond, which will be good for the area.
Old Dominion’s football program, one of the most overlooked incredible stories in NCAA sports, will get even better with the affiliation in C-USA.
But, the sad song will play on. One day, the CAA will cease to exist and the enormous pride that surrounded it in Virginia will probably diminish too.
No one will forget the battles in the Coliseum.
One day, they’ll tear that place down, too.
Time will keep moving, schools will keep making money, and basketball games will still be played.
It just won’t ever be the same.