AU sues CAA over post-season play prohibition

AU filed suit Monday against the Colonial Athletic Association in Federal District Court, alleging the CAA unfairly penalized student-athletes by prohibiting AU from post-season CAA competition after AU announced its intention to leave the CAA in the 2001-2002 school year.

After AU's announcement this spring that it will depart the CAA next year to compete in the Patriot League, the CAA fined the school $250,000 for departing the conference without the requisite three-year notice. The CAA also prohibited AU teams from participating in post-season CAA tournaments and announced AU would not host the CAA Women's Volleyball tournament, as scheduled.

"Our whole premise all along [is] it is absolutely and totally an unacceptable action against the student-athletes," David Taylor, chief of staff to AU President Benjamin Ladner, said.

AU is seeking a lift on the post-season play ban and on the withdrawal of the volleyball championship, Taylor said. AU will not contest the fine, he said.

"If you want to fine the institution, fine," Taylor said. "This is about the athletes, the teams being prohibited from tournament play."

In the lawsuit, AU is contesting the CAA's authority to impose penalties beyond monetary reparations, Taylor said.

AU was the second team in the CAA this spring to announce a departure; East Carolina University announced it will leave the CAA for Conference USA next fall. The University of Richmond announced its intention to leave the CAA for the Atlantic 10 conference shortly after AU's announcement.

When ECU left, the CAA negotiated terms of departure with the school, which included a ban on post-season CAA competition but no fines, according to Taylor. Though AU was aware of the possibility of a tournament ban, AU officials were never given an opportunity to negotiate departure circumstances with the CAA board.

"There was no effort to discuss with us terms and conditions of departure," Taylor said.

The ban places AU team sports at a great disadvantage for NCAA tournament competition. To advance to the NCAA tournaments, a team will now have to win one of the at-large NCAA bids. These spots are decided by looking at a team's win-loss record and the strength of its competitors throughout the season. Normally, an AU team could qualify for the tournament by winning the CAA tournament.

The AU women's volleyball team is ranked No. 1 in the CAA conference going into the fall season.

The decision to exclude AU from competition is harmful not only to the student-athletes at AU, but to the conference as a whole, Taylor said.

"It minimizes the competition within the conference itself," he said. "You're hurting your competition, and you're being a bit excessive in your retaliatory actions."

The case will soon be assigned to a judge, who will issue a preliminary ruling in two to three weeks, Taylor said.

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