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College of Charleston applauds CAA expansion, hopes for more

Dimitrius Underwood

College of Charleston's Dimitrius Underwood drives against CAA foe Elon on Jan. 9. Provided/CofC Athletics

College of Charleston athletic director Matt Roberts hopes to put more of his teams on buses and fewer on airplanes in the future as the Cougars navigate the Colonial Athletic Association landscape.

And the league's addition of three teams — Hampton, Stony Brook and Monmouth — is a step in that direction, he said, even though the latter two schools are in New York and New Jersey, respectively.

"I certainly don't think that's going to be the last of our evolution as a league in terms of membership," Roberts said after the CAA announced last week an expansion to what will be 12 teams in basketball after the departure of James Madison to the Sun Belt at the end of the school year.

"It's certainly a great start in the right direction, a good proactive start in the right direction," he said. "It will help us grow and be more competitive athletically ... And another goal in this process for the league is to have more ease of travel, to eliminate some of the flights teams have to take, and this expansion will allow for that.

"This move certainly helps in the North. It doesn't necessarily help geographically for us in the South. But it's step one in what we think will be a multiple-phase project."

The next phase could be dividing the CAA into six-team divisions for basketball and other sports, which could help College of Charleston in terms of travel.

One scenario could be a North division comprised of Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Monmouth, Northeastern and Stony Brook. A South division could include Charleston, Elon, Towson, UNC Wilmington, Hampton and William & Mary. And that could mean a 16-game CAA basketball schedule in which teams play division rivals twice and other teams once each.

CAA commissioner Joe D'Antonio said discussions are on-going on "scheduling formats, potential division play as well as championship field sizes," and should be announced soon.

Roberts is in favor of division play in the CAA.

"The moniker we've thrown out is that 'Going bigger helps us get smaller,'" he said. "The more schools that we can add ... there are certainly economies of scale that are advantageous, particularly for schools like us and for Northeastern, which are geographic outliers in the South and in the North.

"Hopping on a bus and sending our seven teams that compete during a CAA regular-season schedule is only going to help us take any of those savings and invest them back into our programs and student experience. And that's kind of the end goal here, to take the money we save from regional travel and reinvest that back so what we can become more competitive."

And Roberts believes there are further expansion opportunities for the CAA closer to Charleston.

"We have a little bit more traction with some schools in the North than in the South," he said. "But we still have a lot of opportunities that we think we can pursue below the Mason-Dixon line to help in all our sports."

Southern Conference member UNC Greensboro, the only SoCon school that does not field an FCS football team, often is mentioned as a possible CAA expansion target. But SoCon presidents recently, and unanimously, voted to increase the league's exit fee for departing members from $1 million to $2 million.

That was, in part, due to advances toward SoCon schools from other leagues, commissioner Jim Schaus said.

“There has been extensive interest expressed in our conference and members recently and that is a compliment to the quality of athletics, academics and integrity among our 10 outstanding institutions," he said. "Our membership focus is quality over quantity. We confidently and collectively move ahead as a conference committed to excellence in all areas.”

The addition of Hampton, a historically black university in Virginia, to the CAA could signal a possibility for other HBCUs, perhaps North Carolina A&T or Howard. Big South member Campbell has invested heavily in athletics in recent years and could become a CAA contender.

However the CAA evolves, Roberts said the league is currently the right fit for College of Charleston, which left the SoCon in 2012. It's fair to say the Cougars have had their own suitors during the recent round of conference realignment.

College of Charleston's athletics presence in the student markets of the Northeast in the CAA benefits the school as a whole, he said. 

"We certainly made it known that we're committed to being in the CAA and being a proud member of that conference," Roberts said. "We love the communities and cities in which we compete, playing in cities like Boston and New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

"It's so important for us as an institution to recruiting students ... and it's part of a strategy of continued enrollment stability and growth for us. Athletics plays a large part in that through our engagement in those communities."

Follow on Twitter @Jeff_fromthePC