How A College of Charleston March Madness Snub Could Change the CAA
The CAA may receive a snub of historic proportions come Selection Sunday and it could have drastic effects for the conference.
The College of Charleston men’s basketball team has had a historic run in the Colonial Athletic Association this year with a 28-3 record and an appearance in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2003. The season can be even more historic but in a bad way.
The Cougars could become the first team to win 29 games and miss the NCAA Tournament if they lose in the CAA final or semifinal. Currently, Joe Lunardi has the College of Charleston in its Next Four Out.
If the CAA is not strong enough for a 29-win team to earn an at-large bid, what incentive do teams have to stay? A snub of this proportion could send teams running to the Southern Conference for two main reasons, geography and exposure.
In Olympic sports, the Colonial Athletic Association stretches from Philadelphia and Delaware to Charleston. In football, the sprawl is even more extreme as the conference's football members span from Orono, Maine to Buies Creek, North Carolina.
In comparison, the Southern Conference stretches only from Lexington, Virginia to Homewood, Alabama and Macon, Georgia. Schools like William & Mary, North Carolina A&T, Campbell, and Hampton would gladly trade trips to Maine and New Hampshire for trips to the Virginia Military Institute or to any of the SoCon's Carolina schools. These regional rivalries are better for fan interest and the building of rivalries, especially for William & Mary, who was a SoCon member from 1936-1977.
While more compact geography is nice, the increased exposure is arguably the biggest benefit of a move to the CAA. Last month, the CAA doubled down on its deal with Flosports and CBS Sports Network and extended its partnership with both until 2026-27. Opinions on Flosports have been mostly critical throughout the years and frankly, it is well-warranted criticism.
Flosports costs a whopping $29.99/month, for just one Division I conference's content, while fans can get access to nearly every Division I conference with ESPN+ for just $9.99/month. In fact, the bundle of ESPN+, Hulu, and Disney+ is still half the cost of Flosports.
CBS Sports Network, which broadcasts 20 men's regular season games each year, is a solid partner, but they are still far from ideal as the network lacks carriage to such a degree that it is not even rated by Nielsen. Sure, the CAA would likely have less than 20 games televised each
year if they had a deal with ESPN's networks, but the accessibility is so much better than the current Flosports/CBS Sports Network combination.
The Southern Conference also has an extensive over-the-air TV presence in the South. The Southern Conference has a network of Nexstar-owned stations that broadcast a "SoCon Game of the Week." Each year, this network of stations airs 10 football games and 10 men’s basketball games and Below is the breakdown of the stations:
A glaring example of the accessibility of the Southern Conference is this Saturday’s Game of the Week slate. All four of the Southern Conference Men’s Tournament quarterfinals will air on the local Nexstar-owned stations I listed earlier.
As for the CAA, it’s quarterfinal games are all on Flosports. The SoCon makes it’s most important games it’s most accessible unlike the CAA.
In the end, the College of Charleston needs to make the Tournament to avoid this questioning of the utility of CAA membership. The CAA needs to avoid the perception of a permanent “one-bid” league or the conference’s Southern members may find the prospect of moving to another one-bid league with more exposure enticing.