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VCU leaves CAA for A-10 Conference

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Virginia Commonwealth University officials announced during a Tuesday afternoon news conference that the school will leave the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) and join the Atlantic 10 (A-10) Conference.

CBS 6 Sports Director Lane Casadonte reported that VCU President Michael Rao said the university will join the A-10 on July 1, 2012, for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Rao said being able to better attract -- and keep student athletes -- was one major factor in the decision to shift conferences. Also, Rao said the change was based on the long-term benefits to students, athletes and the university. He also said national visibility in media markets was another reason for the decision.

"Financial considerations involved in the move to the A-10 are significant," said Rao.

In fact, the cost to enter the A-10 is $700,000. The fee to exit the CAA is $250,000. VCU is also forfeiting approximately $5 million in NCAA money they have earned over the last six years by leaving the CAA now, and the Rams will have to spend an additional $150,000 each year on travel to A-10 opponents.

"Offsetting those costs are expected benefits to VCU by joining the A-10 -- including significant increases in revenue sharing," said Rao. The A-10 splits all revenue with schools by giving 75% of earnings back to the schools while 25% goes to the conference.

Rao said the school has a "whole lot more to gain by leaving and a whole lot more to lose by staying."

Additionally, Interim VCU Athletic Director David Benedict said A-10 conversations have been taking place "over the last few months."

There is some speculation that move could impact the CAA Tournament staying in Richmond. Rao said he believed VCU's departure from the CAA could help keep the tournament at the Richmond Coliseum. He said by leaving the CAA, the conference can avoid criticism over VCU being allowed to play these important tournament games in their home city.

"We have been decisive and we are moving now," said Rao.

VCU Basketball Coach Shaka Smart was not in attendance for the announcement but did release a statement:

"We are extremely excited by the opportunity to join the Atlantic 10 conference" Smart said. "It is a phenomenal league, made up of programs with both rich traditions and recent track records of success. We are very appreciative of the time we spent in the CAA, the experiences we had and the relationships we gained. We plan to maintain our key rivalries with CAA teams, now and in the future. Our number one goal remains to move our student-athletes forward both on and off the court."

Sources had told CBS 6 Sports Director Lane Casadonte an official announcement would come Tuesday.

The A-10 is considered “multiple-bid” conference when it comes to the NCAA basketball tournament, meaning more than one university is routinely invited to participate. Last season four A-10 school played in the NCAA tournament (Saint Louis, Temple, St. Bonaventure, Xavier)

Since 1996, the A-10 has earned 35 at large bids to the NCAA tournament while the CAA has garnered only 4, and 2 of those came in 2009.

This past season VCU was the only CAA school to make the NCAA tournament. The CAA regular season champion, Drexel, was not invited.

CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager also issued a statement after VCU's announcement:

“This morning I was informed over the phone by President Michael Rao of VCU’s decision to withdraw from the CAA effective July 1, 2012. I was disappointed by the decision, but we are involved in a period of unprecedented change in collegiate athletics. There have been a lot of decisions made for all different kinds of reasons. Time will tell which ones were good.

“The CAA remains strong with outstanding universities that have excellent leadership, coaches and student-athletes. The current membership is committed to the growth of the league. We look forward to continuing our membership-related discussions, but will do so in a confidential matter.”