Georgia State will not be able to compete for Colonial Athletic Association tournament team championships in the upcoming year, its last before joining the Sun Belt, CAA commissioner Tom Yeager announced on Tuesday. A vote was taken by the conference’s presidents during a meeting last week. The results were unanimous, reinforcing a long-time CAA bylaw.
“The conference believes that the championship opportunities should be reserved for those student-athletes that are continuing members of the conference,” Yeager said.
GSU President Mark Becker said in a statement they “were very disappointed” in the decision, which prevents the Panthers’ teams from the chance to earn automatic berths into NCAA tournaments. The sports affected are baseball, basketball, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, tennis and volleyball. The conference will allow individuals to compete in cross country, swimming and diving, track and field and wrestling, but team points will not be calculated.
Becker and athletic director Cheryl Levick have two options:
• Their teams can try to earn at-large berths. Five CAA teams have made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament as at-large selections. GSU football isn’t eligible for the playoffs because it has already applied to reclassify from FCS to FBS.
• Becker can ask Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson if the Panthers can join this fall in every sport but football (whose schedules are completed) with immediate postseason eligibility.
Georgia State and the Sun Belt had several “What if?” discussions several weeks ago, centered on the Panthers joining the conference this fall, a year earlier than planned.
Now that the CAA has ruled the Panthers are ineligible to compete in its tournament championships, Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson said he expects they will re-visit those discussions. He said the Sun Belt would like to accommodate Georgia State, as long as doing so doesn’t disrupt the schedules that are complete, notably men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball. Benson declined to say if it could be done because Georgia State hasn’t approached him. Changing conferences doesn’t require any application or approval by the NCAA. Becker declined an interview request on Tuesday. Levick is out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment. Benson said when Levick returns he assumes they will begin talking.
The Panthers announced in April that they were leaving the CAA for the Sun Belt in 2013-14. A CAA bylaw prohibits schools that have resigned from participating in conference championships.The CAA is believed to be the only conference in the NCAA that has a rule prohibiting postseason involvement. However, citing another provision that states the remaining schools can determine when the resignation is effective, Becker tried to persuade the school presidents last week to allow the Panthers to be eligible to compete. Levick said it’s not fair that the student-athletes may be punished by not being allowed the chance to compete.
Yeager brushed off that point during a teleconference on Tuesday.
“That’s a question that those institutions that withdrew have to answer,” he said. “They knew the rule was on the books and that it was a likely consequence. On balance, they made the decision to withdraw.”
Georgia State basketball coach Ron Hunter wasn’t as understanding Tuesday afternoon, saying that it was the first bad day he has had since taking over the team last year. He said he’s not mad at Georgia State because a move had to be made. He’s upset that his players are the ones being punished.
“When I meet with the players tonight I have to explain this to them,” he said. “The older guys will understand. The younger guys, they are going to ask ‘What did we do wrong?’ They didn’t do anything wrong.”
He said though Georgia State will be in the CAA, it will in effect be an independent and that independents rarely receive at-large bids.
“This decision means we aren’t going to be able to play in March Madness,” he said. “That week is a special week. It’s about the kids.”
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu