Elon University’s move to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), announced May 2013 but not made official until July 2014, was met with considerable financial weight and legitimate concerns with regard to travel and level of competition.
But about two years in, fresh off the first CAA Championships that Elon hosted, it’s clear that the move was right for not just the athletic department but the university as a whole.
Elon’s Jimmy Powell Tennis Center hosted the CAA Tennis Championships last weekend, with both the Phoenix men and women falling in tight semifinal matches. Save for rain on Friday — Elon’s contingency plan sent the matches to Greensboro and Winston-Salem — the tournaments went smoothly, proving the university’s capability for holding such events.
That’ll be tested again May 6-7 when Belk Track hosts the CAA Track and Field Championships. Elon has added extra bleachers and a storage facility in preparation for that meet and other home meets.
Consider the visitors brought to campus for the tennis tournaments. Opponents ranged as far south as Charleston, South Carolina, and as far north as Hempstead, New York. It’s a far more diverse group than one that was here for, say, the 2013 Southern Conference (SoCon) tennis championships. Including Elon, five of the SoCon’s full-time members then were from North Carolina, and four more were from South Carolina.
And that’s not even as far as the CAA footprint stretches — Northeastern University in Boston doesn’t field varsity tennis teams.
It’s also a more representative base of Elon’s student body. Sending its athletic teams regularly to compete in Boston, Washington, D.C., and Long Island, New York broadens Elon’s name recognition in areas that already draw a large portion of students. It only makes sense that the school should be athletically competing in regions of the country where it’s also competing for students.
The financial strains that the move brought are no joke. Flying the volleyball team to Boston is far more expensive than busing it to Greensboro or Davidson.
But Elon evidently is investing in athletics to put the school on a similar level as peer institutions College of William & Mary and University of Richmond. Elon’s pushing its athletic teams to compete with schools of a higher caliber, and it’s raising money to build a larger facility for men’s and women’s basketball — the Schar Center.
If Elon wants to be on par with other CAA schools — and it’s made it clear that it does — then it has to spend some money. President Leo Lambert hasn’t been afraid to do that. Considering the expansion of the university as a whole, it only makes sense that athletics takes a step forward, too.
Since joining, Elon’s won just one outright CAA title — last year’s women’s track and field crown. Director of Athletics Dave Blank acknowledged this time last year that it’d take time to adjust to the competition.
The CAA is a better place for athletic and institutional growth than the SoCon. With time, wins and more recognition will come.