The Colonial Athletic Association Tournament is coming to Harrisonburg.
The conference announced Wednesday morning its men’s basketball postseason championship, originally scheduled for March 6-9 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, would move to the campus of James Madison and the new Atlantic Union Bank Center.
The CAA plans to keep the same dates and 10-team format, but will move to a campus location for the first time since 1986, when former member George Mason hosted the event at what was then known as the Patriot Center in Fairfax. The CAA men’s basketball tournament hasn’t been played in Harrisonburg since 1984 when the league was still known as the East Coast Athletic Conference South.
“We have been exploring for a while now different options and scenarios as it relates to our basketball championships,” CAA commissioner Joe D’Antonio said. “One of those options has always been the ability to move the men’s championship back on campus. It was something we continued to talk about and as we looked at the totality of the circumstances, the athletic directors and our medical professionals felt more than likely it was in the best interest of our conference to make that decision.”
D’Antonio said the recommendation was made to the conference board of directors who agreed with the move. Harrisonburg and JMU were chosen through what D’Antonio called “an internal process.” JMU athletic director Jeff Bourne later confirmed it was a bidding process open to all CAA schools.
The Atlantic Union Bank Center opened this fall, replacing the JMU Convocation Center. The AUBC and adjacent parking facility cost nearly $140 million and the state-of-the-art arena seats 8,500 fans with sufficient locker room space, training rooms, a practice court and extensive media seating needed to host tournament play.
“One of the major reasons JMU was selected has a lot to do with our facilities,” Bourne said. “The fact that we have the new Atlantic Union Bank Center as a foundational facility and access to the Convocation Center are major incentives from the league. We have adequate hotel opportunities here in Harrisonburg and we have a proven track record that when we host events we do an exceptional job.”
Bourne also said it hasn’t been decided, but it is possible the CAA could use the Convocation Center for practices, or even perhaps early-round games, in conjunction with the newer facility.
“When I started talking to other coaches in the league, and we were considering a bubble or something like that, they all said we had the best place to host a tournament,” JMU coach Mark Byington said.
The CAA women’s tournament returned to campus sites four years ago after six seasons at the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md. The 2021 women’s tournament was originally slated for the AUBC this March, but that was pushed back to 2022 after Elon lost its turn in the rotation last year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Phoenix will host this year instead.
The CAA was in the middle of a three-year agreement with Events DC to host the men’s event at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in the city’s Congress Heights neighborhood. The 4,200-seat facility is home to the Washington Mystics of the WNBA as well as the Washington Wizards’ NBA G-League affiliate.
Last March, the CAA completed the tournament in Washington, crowning Hofstra as champion, just days before COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
How many, if any, fans will be allowed inside the building for the CAA Tournament is a question that has yet to be answered. JMU, in accordance with current Virginia regulations, allows up to 200 fans at home games.
“Those are final decisions we are going to have to make as we get closer to the tournament and understand what is going to be allowed based on public health officials in Harrisonburg and within the state of Virginia,” D’Antonio said. “We have planned all along, in all our discussions we’ve been having about where the tournament could be held, that we were going to be in a controlled environment with specific parameters and cleaning priorities and safety priorities in place. We know we are able to work with the folks at JMU to carry out those policies and implement those plans.”