- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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We have been told for nearly a year now that university presidents and chancellors, conference commissioners and athletic directors are altruistic do-gooders and that their every decision is for the "betterment of the student-athlete."
Asking a cross-country team to, in fact, travel cross country for a meet? Replacing old rivalry games with contrived ones?
Like liver and broccoli, it’s all for the student-athletes’ own good.
Yet here we are, on another day of the conference carousel, with Old Dominion announcing it is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for Conference USA -- and the welfare of student-athletes is being ignored.
CAA bylaws state that "upon notice of an institution’s intent to withdraw, the institution’s teams become ineligible on a date determined by the remaining members to compete for Association team championships."
Or in elementary school parlance: If you don’t want to play with me, than I don’t want to play with you, either.
The rationale is that a departing team shouldn’t take away a title opportunity from a team committed to the conference for the future.
Look, there is no denying that the CAA is more victim than villain in all of this. The CAA has been picked over like a dead animal on the side of the road, with Conference USA, the Sun Belt and the Atlantic 10 hovering over the carcass taking the meatier parts -- Old Dominion to C-USA, Georgia State to the Sun Belt, and VCU to the A-10.
But should the league enforce its petty bylaw and deny both ODU and Georgia State a chance to compete (a two-thirds vote in favor from remaining members is needed to overturn it), it will manage to trump its pickpocketing brethren in disloyalty.
Forget how foolish, childish and vindictive the league looks and sounds. Concentrate instead on the simple fact that instead of punishing the grownups who’ve made these decisions, the CAA is penalizing the athletes who have about as much say in conference realignment as my golden retriever has in my finances.
This is not their fault. This is not even their fight. They are having all sorts of things done to them for "their own good" and given the voice of Marcel Marceau.
You want to stick it to a school in the wallet and charge an exit fee? Feel free.
You want to require, like the Big East does, a timeframe to withdrawal without penalty? Go for it.
But absolutely nothing is gained by denying athletes a reason to compete and a chance to win a championship.
They have done nothing wrong and they certainly shouldn’t be asked to pay the only real penalty.
It is not just petty and vindictive. It’s mean-spirited and cruel.
ODU coach Blaine Taylor told Andy Katz that he hopes "cooler heads would prevail," but that certainly doesn’t sound likely. CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said overriding it required a "pretty steep standard," and likened the rule to a company parting ways early with an employee who has given notice.
He also pointed out that Old Dominion administrators were in the room when the bylaw was adopted 12 years ago and made their decision to leave fully aware of the possible repercussions.
“They knew the consequences that applied to their student athletes and still made the decision,’’ he said. “I’ve got 4,000 other student-athletes in this thing and their decision was made with full knowledge of what the consequence was and still made the decision.
“One of the hardest things,’’ he said, “was looking those student-athletes in the eyes and telling them because of their institution’s decisions, they were "ineligible."
And while that is technically fair and reasoned thinking, it doesn’t preclude the conference from simply doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing.
Yes, that’s an outlandish form of thinking in this day and age, when no one is thinking of anything but themselves but if you’re going to dare to be different why not dare to be different for the betterment of the student-athlete?