Hofstra's priority: To keep CAA strong

Hofstra guard Dwan McMillan lines up his free

Hofstra guard Dwan McMillan lines up his free throw against UNC Wilmington. (Feb. 25, 2012) (Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke)

Steven Marcus

Newsday columnist Steven Marcus Steven Marcus

Steven Marcus started at Newsday in 1972 and has covered

bio | email

Hofstra's future path to the NCAA Tournament in men's basketball seemed to become a bit smoother with a published report that Colonial Athletic Association powers Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason were leaving for the Atlantic 10. But both schools and CAA commissioner Tom Yeager have vehemently denied the story.

Hofstra hopes there's nothing to it. It would rather maintain a strong conference.

"I didn't get the impression at all that this had any legs,'' athletic director Jack Hayes said Monday. "The way to go isn't to hope that teams that have been successful leave. I think the league's better with those teams in it. Those teams in recent years have made it possible for a second and third team to get in. I don't think you'd want to see that go away.''

Hayes also doesn't think it makes any sense for the flagship programs to leave. "They have built-in home games with each other, plus Old Dominion, William & Mary, James Madison,'' he said. "They do very well attendance-wise with those in-state rivalries. From VCU's standpoint, they've got the conference tournament right down the street'' in Richmond.

Supposedly, the two schools were being wooed by the multiple-bid opportunities that could exist in the A-10. Fordham coach Tom Pecora, two seasons removed from his coaching tenure at Hofstra, is all for the two shifting to Fordham's conference.

"Then we become like the Big East, with 16 teams,'' he said. "We got over 50 percent of our teams playing in the postseason this year between the NCAA and NIT. We're the seventh-ranked conference in the country. Every night it's a great level of college basketball. [Would] it enhance the conference? You bet. Does it make it stronger? Absolutely.''

Hayes countered, "Whatever league you look at, there's not going to be a red carpet to the NCAA Tournament for anybody. That league, I don't know what additional assurances you'd get. I just don't see it being there.''

It's a generous position by Hofstra, which has never won the CAA Tournament or received an at-large bid since joining the conference in the 2001-2002 season. Hofstra is 5-15 against VCU, 8-12 against George Mason.

George Mason was somewhat vilified by Hofstra followers in the 2005-06 season when, despite losing twice to the Pride, including a game in the CAA Tournament, Mason received an at-large berth over Hofstra. Mason then became a friendly rival to cheer for as it advanced to the Final Four.

Hofstra coach Mo Cassara wants to maintain the status quo, saying, "Why would you leave a league where you are going to play in your backyard and have a chance to get to the NCAA every single year? I think it's bad for the league. When you have George Mason and VCU, two teams that have been in the Final Four, it gives your league credibility nationally. If you lose teams like that, it certainly changes the landscape of your league.''