New Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway doesn't officially start his job until next month, but one of his main priorities already has been identified by university president Stuart Rabinowitz. Hofstra's Colonial Athletic Association is losing member schools, and Rabinowitz, who chairs the CAA's council of presidents, wants the matter given the utmost attention.
Even as Hathaway was being named Tuesday at Hofstra, key CAA member Virginia Commonwealth, whose men's basketball program made the Final Four in 2011, was announcing its departure for the Atlantic 10 and paying the CAA a $250,000 withdrawal fee, a move confirmed by CAA commissioner Tom Yeager, who was at Hofstra for Hathaway's news conference.
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Rabinowitz said a significant reason for hiring Hathaway, who spent eight years as the AD at the University of Connecticut, is to navigate Hofstra through conference issues. "Because it's my concern, it's his concern," Rabinowitz said. "We need somebody with his experience, his background, his name recognition, the respect he has, to give all our options and to tell us what we should do, where we should be, how do we improve the league that we are in."
CAA member Georgia State will leave for the Sun Belt after next season, Old Dominion reportedly is looking elsewhere and Yeager said Towson and UNC Wilmington have academic issues that could prevent each from being eligible for NCAA postseason games in basketball.
Yeager is upset by the departures, saying: "I think everybody in every league is. I don't think there's a commissioner that feels particularly good about what has been happening nationally in so many leagues."
A number of schools have switched conferences during the past year. The Atlantic 10, for example, is losing Temple, but adding Butler and VCU.
Hofstra basketball coach Mo Cassara said of VCU's defection: "I think it certainly changes the dynamics of the league a little bit. Certainly Commonwealth has been the leader in the league the last couple of years [but] I think the league is still strong."
Rabinowitz said he was buoyed by George Mason's recent declaration that the CAA's other flagship program would remain in the conference.
Hathaway said Hofstra also would stay, but added: "At the same time, there's not a person in college athletics that would tell you they are not watching the landscape each and every day and it changes each and every day. But clearly, we are committed to this conference.''
Toward the end of Hathaway's UConn tenure, the athletic department was scrutinized by the NCAA for recruiting violations in men's basketball and declining academic scores. Hathaway signed what UConn termed a "separation agreement" in August 2011. At the time, Hathaway called it a retirement.
"I didn't come here to retire," the 52-year-old Hathaway said of Hofstra. "Anybody who knows me, knows I'm either 110 percent in or I'm out.''
Hathaway said his departure from UConn was due to "simply a change of leadership, I understand that. I've worked in higher education for 30 years. I have nothing bad to say about the University of Connecticut. That's really all I have to say on that."
Rabinowitz said Hofstra fully vetted Hathaway. "I am absolutely convinced what went wrong there was not due to anything he did or should have done," Rabinowitz said.Hathaway also said he is focused on the continued improvement of Hofstra's 17 varsity sports. He does not foresee a revival of football, which the university dropped after the 2009 season largely because of budgetary concerns.