Could money be the savior for the CAA?

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There are a handful of mid-major conferences across the college basketball landscape that have established themselves as perennially capable of producing a Sweet 16 caliber team.

The Missouri Valley, the WCC, the Horizon League, even the Ohio Valley and the MAC’s eastern division can usually be counted on for at least one potential cinderella. But in recent years, there may not be a more successful or balanced mid-major conference than the CAA.

That all may be coming to a close, however, as the league is in a tenuous position heading forward. Old Dominion has their eye on a move to Conference USA to try and upgrade their football program. VCU and George Mason may follow Butler’s lead and make a jump to the Atlantic 10. Those three programs account for eight of the nine CAA tournament titles and 13 of the 16 NCAA tournament appearances from the conference since 2001. UNC-Wilmington, who, along with Towson, is expected to be banned from the postseason in 2013 due to low APR scores, is responsible for the other three tournament appearances. In fact, if you add the Seahawks to the equation, the last time that a team other than those four won the CAA tournament was 1998.

That team was Richmond, who is now playing in the (you guessed it) Atlantic 10.

”I’m the optimist that we’re ok, but who knows?” CAA commissioner Tom Yeager told the AP. ”Watching what’s going on around the country, it’s crazy.”

One interesting aspect about this decision is that it may end up being money that keeps the league together:

The possible departure by VCU, he said, is especially surprising considering that the CAA tournament is played down the street from VCU’s campus, making every game a home game, and the cut of the CAA pie from NCAA tournament revenue that VCU would be walking away from is large.

”Leaving on the front end of a Final Four payout, they could leave as much as $5 million on the table,” he said, noting that teams earn shares, or units, of the money based on what they did to earn it for the league, and that those shares are credited for the ensuing six years.

George Mason would get its final big payoff for its 2006 Final Four run this year.

According to CAA bylaws, when a team announces it is leaving, it forfeits that money.

Going to the Atlantic 10 would be a good move for both George Mason and VCU. It’s a stronger league, one more likely to produce at-large bids, which in turn means that the teams will collect more win-shares from the NCAA tournament.

With the CAA no longer taking part in BracketBusters, it’s quite possible that 2012-2013 is end the of the league’s prominence in college hoops?

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.