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VCU leaves CAA, announces move to Atlantic 10

VCU is looking to make the most of its rise to prominence in men's basketball and President Michael Rao said moving to the Atlantic 10 is "the next step."

The president said at press conference Tuesday to announce that VCU is leaving the Colonial Athletic Association to join the A-10 that "premier universities are premier across the board and that includes athletics."

The Atlantic 10 began looking for potential new members as part of a long-term strategic plan adopted about 18 months ago, Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said on a teleconference.

She welcomed VCU as "a perfect fit for the Atlantic 10 Conference."

Rao said the move will take effect in all sports on July 1, 2012. He said he knows there will be pressure to win and that the Rams welcome it.

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Rao said. "We play to win. We expect it win. We have been winning."

With VCU's basketball program on the rise under coach Shaka Smart the Rams want to become NCAA tournament regulars.

Smart said in a statement released by VCU that he's "extremely excited by the opportunity to join the Atlantic 10. It is a phenomenal league made up of programs with both rich traditions and recent track records of success."

VCU became the biggest story of the 2011 NCAA tournament when they were one of the most controversial schools invited as an at-large entry. They went from the First Four to the Final Four, but would rather not have to win the conference tournament to be assured a spot in the NCAA field.

CAA bylaws provide that a team leaving the league immediately becomes ineligible for the conference basketball tournament, league Commissioner Tom Yeager said Monday.

By leaving, VCU is forfeiting as much as $5 million in shares due them over the next six years for victories in the NCAA tournament.

Rao said the move was worth it.

"The expected returns are far greater that the short-term losses," Rao said Tuesday.

Yeager did not return a phone message Tuesday.

The CAA tournament is played down the street from VCU's home arena, and has attracted record crowds in recent years with VCU among the favorites.

But the move again places Virginia Commonwealth in the same league as city rival Richmond. The switch is expected to give a competitive and financial boost to the Rams' program.

After the Rams magical run in the tournament, VCU gave Smart an eight-year contract that pays him an average of $1.21 million per year.

The Rams won the CAA tournament again this season, beat Wright State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament and came within a missed 3-pointer at the buzzer against Indiana of reaching the round of 16 again.

But the Rams were the only CAA school among the 68 teams invited to the tournament. Drexel, which had won 27 games and had a 19-game winning streak snapped in the championship, was relegated to the NIT.

That scenario is far less likely to happen to a runner-up in the Atlantic 10.

Since 2000, the A-10 has received 20 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, the CAA just four.

The loss of one of its three best basketball programs comes as a big blow to the CAA, which last week won a reprieve when George Mason, another of the big three, announced it is staying.

Old Dominion, the other team considering a change in conference affiliation, has not yet announced its plans. The school's board discussed the situation in a closed session Monday.