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Membership in 13-school conference begins in 2013-14 school year

by Nick Eilerson

Staff writer

George Mason University officials announced Monday that the school will be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association to join the Atlantic 10 Conference beginning with the 2013-14 season. Its membership in the 21-sport league will officially start on July 1.

“After careful consideration, we really think this is the right decision at the right time,” GMU President Angel Cabrera said in a teleconference Monday. “We’re very, very excited to be joining the [Atlantic 10]. Obviously we have great respect and admiration for the Colonial Athletic Association... We’re very proud [of the CAA], and we want to wish our partners in the CAA very well. We have a great respect for those institutions and Commissioner Tom Yeager.”

George Mason was a charter member of the CAA, helping form the conference out of the ECAC South in 1985. The University of Richmond, another original member, moved to the A-10 for the 2001-02 season. Last year, local rival Virginia Commonwealth University made the same move after a 17-year stint in the CAA.

VCU’s move precipitated further shrinking, as Old Dominion opted to leave for Conference USA and George State committed to the Sun Belt Conference. Those changes, occurring alongside Towson and UNC Wilmington’s failures to meet the NCAA’s minimum academic standards, resulted in only seven teams participating in this month’s CAA men’s basketball tournament. James Madison won the tournament and garnered a 16-seed in the NCAA Tournament as the lone representative from the CAA.

George Mason will be moving to a basketball-driven conference coming off a watershed season that saw nine A-10 teams qualify for the postseason, including five in the NCAA Tournament. Yet member schools Xavier, Butler, Temple and Charlotte will be leaving the conference this summer, making way for the Patriots to fill a gap.

“Our vision for Mason athletics is to be the best overall athletic program in the conference, certainly with emphasis on men’s and women’s basketball,” Mason Director of Athletics Tom O’Connor said. “This move is perfectly aligned with the A-10’s visions and accomplishments.”

George Mason’s move will occur precisely one year after VCU left for the A-10, a course of action George Mason officials considered last year before eventually opting to remain in the CAA. That decision was largely influenced by former University President Alan Merten, who retired last July.

“History is something you can’t change, and I’d rather deal in the future,” O’Connor said. “We have an exciting campus right now that’s looking forward to the Atlantic 10. History is history; we look forward to the future.”

The Patriots will rekindle their old rivalry with VCU just as they will forge a new one with George Washington University. According to George Washington President and Chair of the A-10 Council of Presidents Dr. Steven Knapp, GW students have already dubbed the rivalry “The Battle of the Orange Line,” a reference to the metro line that connects the two campuses.

neilerson@fairfaxtimes.com