League's changes mean Richmond is out as host
In a Virginia-dominated basketball conference, the centrally located capital city of Richmond served the Colonial Athletic Association as the logical host of its postseason basketball tournament, even if it gave some schools an undeniable edge.
With the departures of Virginia Commonwealth and Old Dominion, however, the CAA is no longer Virginia-centric, and Richmond is no longer its geographic heart.
On Wednesday the CAA announced it will move the tournament to Baltimore. 1st Mariner Arena, located a few blocks from the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards, will take over as tournament host in 2014. The aging, 51-year-old building, formerly the Baltimore Civic Center and home of the Baltimore Bullets, has a basketball capacity of 11,800.
"Baltimore is more centrally located to a number of our institutions," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said via teleconference. "It's a bigger market. Its reputation as a destination city speaks for itself."
Getting to Baltimore will be more difficult for schools such as William & Mary, James Madison, UNC Wilmington and College of Charleston, which joins the league next year. But it will be more accessible for Towson, Northeastern, Hofstra, Delaware and Drexel, schools that often felt outnumbered at Richmond Coliseum, the tournament host since 1990.
Yeager said the league requested proposals from 31 East Coast sites, settling on two finalists -- Baltimore and Richmond. Last year's tournament drew a record crowd of 47,833 and made an estimated $5.8 million economic impact for the city of Richmond, according to a study cited by the CAA.
"We're a different league than we were 12 months ago," Yeager said. "There's no denying the impact that VCU and ODU had on the tournament. That's not there. That's gone forward, so it brought a whole new evaluation."
Yeager said that the league headquarters will remain in Richmond.
The announcement comes amid uncertainty for the CAA. The league, which formerly consisted of 12 schools, will have 10 next year. In recent years, conference realignment has hit basketball leagues hard as schools with ambitious football programs have departed for conferences with higher football profiles. That was the case for ODU, destined for Conference USA, and Georgia State, headed for the Sun Belt.
VCU doesn't have a football team but was attracted by a stronger basketball league, the Atlantic 10, which includes crosstown rival and former CAA member Richmond. George Mason also considered a move to the A-10 earlier this year. Meanwhile, the CAA is looking to expand, according to Yeager, who refused to identify potential suitors.
"There's a lot of activity going on right now," Yeager said.
A move to Baltimore can help the CAA shed its image as a Virginia-flavored league that is in rapid decline after losing two of its cornerstones.
"Baltimore's a bigger stage with brighter lights," Yeager said.
And he hopes it will help bring his league a brighter future.