On July 1, at 12:00 a.m. Elon University officially left the Southern Conference after 11 years to become a member of the Colonial Athletic Association.
The move, which was officially announced by the University on May 23, 2013, was voted on unanimously by the Board of Trustees.
The CAA first approached Elon about joining its conference in early April 2013 following the loss of four schools--George Mason (Atlantic 10), Georgia State (Sun Belt), Old Dominion (Conference USA) and VCU (Atlantic 10).
"Elon is a school we had on our radar for a while," CAA Commissioner Tom Yeager said in an interview with Elon Local News "I think both parties saw what they liked in each other. We liked them because of the institution they are and the feeling was mutual in the way that we go about our business."
While there was an attraction between Elon and the CAA, the decision was not an easy one.
"Once we were contacted then we went about the process trying to figure out what was right for us," Dave Blank, Director of Athletics at Elon, told ELN "That situation started with whether it was the right situation for the University. And that had to be answered 'yes' before we investigated whether it would be right for us athletically."
In addition, like the CAA, the Southern Conference was being hit hard by conference realignment. Four of the league's prominent programs--Appalachian State, College of Charleston, Davidson and Georgia Southern had announced that they would be leaving in the near future.
"[The loss of SoCon teams] had to be a factor, but we were not sitting in a position saying, 'Boy, we've got to get out of the Southern Conference,'" Blank said. "We were happy in the Southern Conference, the Southern Conference is full of great institutions and good friends to Elon and we really enjoyed our 11 years there. This wasn't about one's better than the other, this was about an opportunity to take full advantage of this fit for our institution and our athletic department and so it was the best move for us. It was certainly not an escape from the Southern Conference. We are not running from something, we are moving toward a great opportunity.
With the move comes an immediate cost of nearly $1 million. Elon will be paying the Southern Conference an exit fee of $600,000. The University will then pay the CAA $300,000 to join the league.
According to Blank, much of the money for the fees has been generated already through several fundraising efforts. The remainder of the money will continue to be generated through more fundraising and CAA revenue sharing.
Blank also said that one of his goals is to pay all or most of the fees without any institutional funding, something he said the athletic department is currently on track for.
In addition to the immediate fees, there will also be increased transportation costs, as the footprint of the CAA spans from the College of Charleston in South Carolina to Northeastern University in Boston. When football-only schools are taken into account, the conference footprint extends another 250 miles north to the University of Maine.
For the 2014-2015 school year the CAA will receive approximately $3.8 million from the NCAA Basketball distribution fund compared to roughly $1.5 million that the Southern Conference will take in according to the NCAA distribution fund formula.
Despite this, Blank said that money was not a primary factor in the decision to leave the Southern Conference.
"It's not really about money, because there is different ways to construct a budget and different conferences do things differently when it comes to revenue sharing," Blank said. "Yes and no money is a factor. Money is always a factor because you have to take care of business, but there are no guarantees, no certainties that your basketball program will have the kind of success to generate those revenues."
The CAA Footprint
According to Blank, one of the biggest factors in Elon's decision was that the CAA footprint covers, by far, more current students and alumni than the Southern Conference.
"We looked at 50 mile radius of every Southern Conference school and in that 50 miles how many Elon alumni are in that area and then we did the same thing for all the Colonial schools, and what we found out is that there are a lot more alums and even students currently enrolled from within the Colonial footprint," Blank said.
Commissioner Yeager echoed this when talking about why Elon and his conference were such a good fit for each other.
"The CAA can help Elon with the visibility in particularly, in the area that the institution recruits from," Yeager said. "The northeast corridor is a very important place for student recruitment and it is where their alumni bases are, so we'll be increasing their exposure in the northeast corridor when they go to Philadelphia and Baltimore and New York and Boston to play games."
According to Elon University, there are more than 5,300 Elon alumni and more than 1,850 students living in the CAA footprint, including 56 percent of the class of 2013.
"If we are going to go to markets like Boston and New York and Philadelphia and Baltimore to play, we're going to be seen by a lot of folks that interested in coming to Elon," Blank said.
A big part of increasing visibility is the CAA's television contract with NBC Sports. According to the contract, the five-year agreement, which was signed in 2012, includes games televised both nationally on the NBC Sports Network and locally in regional Comcast stations.
"We have a 24-game football package that includes national games with NBC and Comcast syndicated games," Yeager said. "On the basketball front we control about 50 games and a lot more that come along through various other sources."
Yeager also said, however, that the number of appearances Elon makes on television depends on the success of the teams.
"The teams that are the stronger brands because of their reputation will get more TV exposure," Yeager said. "If they start winning championships and advancing into the NCAA Tournament they will be on TV more, if they don't, they will not be on as much."
According to Blank, the possibility of televised games in the CAA was certainly attractive to Elon, but due to the changing world of television contracts, it was not a focal point.
"At any time TV networks can make different decisions so while we saw the opportunity for televised games as a very positive thing and a nice feature, it is not one one of the major factors, it is just something we thought was a good thing" Blank said. "We look at more. The thing that will not change is the fact that we will be in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Baltimore, four of the top 25 media markets in the country."
With the new league comes new competition for the Phoenix. The days of traveling to Birmingham, Alabama and Statesboro, Georgia are being traded for trips to Towson, Maryland and Hempstead, New York. But while CAA schools range the entirety of the East Coast, Elon will still have plenty of competition in the south.
The Phoenix will compete in all sports against College of Charleston, who joined the CAA in 2013, University of North Carolina Wilmington, James Madison University and William and Mary. Elon will also face The University of Richmond for football.
Despite the change in competition, Elon is confident it will be able to compete.
"I don't think we're feeling like we need to recruit a better student-athlete. We feel great about the student-athletes we have and we think they can compete in the Colonial just like they did in the Southern Conference," Blank said. "It might take us a year or two or three to get where we want to be, but I don't see that as a negative, I think that's just us finding our way in a new market with our new conference."
Though Elon is leaving the Southern Conference, the University still looks to maintain the relationships that it had with SoCon schools.
"We believe that we will be able to maintain those relationships and we are lucky to have been able to have those relationships," Blank said. "I see those schools as possibly being teams that we'll schedule as games on a non-conference schedule."
Elon has already been using relationships it established during its time in the Southern Conference to set up non-conference games. Blank says Elon will play Furman in football in 2017 and 2018, and the Phoenix will take on UNC Greensboro in men's basketball next year.
Elon will play its first regular season game as a member of the CAA when the women's soccer team hosts Jacksonville State in a nonconference game on Friday, August 22.
Full Press Conference- May 23, 2013