Bracketbusted: CAA and ESPN Part Ways, Future Relations Unknown

Having covered Northeastern athletics for the last five years — mostly basketball — I have seen my share of Colonial Athletic Association action. Last month I was in Richmond, Va. for the 2012 Virginia 529 College Savings Plan CAA Men’s Basketball Championship. VCU defeated Drexel in the title game to earn the league’s berth in the NCAA Tournament.

VCU won the 2012 CAA Tournament on ESPN. Next year the CAA is moving to NBC Sports. (Photo: Patrick McHugh)

With schools like VCU and George Mason making surprise runs to the Final Four recently, the CAA has proved to be one of the top mid-major conferences in college basketball. Just as impressive is the league’s performance on the gridiron. In the last decade, four CAA schools have won the Division 1 Football Championship with three schools finishing as runner-up.

Hoping to capitalize on its popularity and get more national attention, the CAA signed a five-year deal with NBC Sports to have its basketball and football games on the NBC Sports Network.

Since NBC Sports is seen as a competitor by ESPN, the move made by the CAA wasn’t taken too kindly by the folks at the Worldwide Leader. Each year since 2003, ESPN has hosted a BracketBusters weekend in which mid-major schools from opposing conferences play each other on national television so as to improve their tournament resume and gain more exposure prior to the NCAA Tournament. With the CAA abandoning ESPN for NBC Sports, ESPN decided not to include the CAA for next year’s BracketBusters series.

So where does this decision leave each party? There are different arguments on each side. Awful Announcing pointed out the CAA will no longer get positive treatment from ESPN, and the lack of exposure from the most-watched sports network could hurt the league when it comes to Selection Sunday. Unsurprisingly, NBC Sports had a different take, saying without the nation’s premier mid-major conference, BracketBusters will lose its appeal.

To me, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s true, without extra exposure from ESPN the CAA won’t have as much mainstream attention simply because NBC Sports doesn’t reach the amount of households that ESPN does. At the same time, BracketBusters now has lost some of its appeal without a top caliber mid-major conference.

Time will tell whether the split is beneficial or detrimental to either side, but if nothing else the war of words between the parties should be entertaining.

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