Posted March 15, 2013

Atlantic 10 meeting shows signs of further realignment moves

Brad Stevens and Butler continue to creep closer to exiting the Atlantic 10. (Getty Images)

Brad Stevens and Butler continue to creep closer to exiting the Atlantic 10. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK – After an executive session meeting of Atlantic 10 presidents ended on Friday morning, officials from Xavier and Butler quietly exited. The meetings continued without them, another tangible sign of their inevitable exit to join the Catholic Seven schools.

The moment symbolized the Atlantic 10’s season, which has been both historic and chaotic. The league is on the cusp of placing five teams in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Yet it’s also poised to lose three marquee programs this year – Temple, Butler and Xavier — and two more next year — St. Louis and Dayton.

As the A-10 Tournament buzzed at the splendid Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday, the specter of realignment loomed. St. Louis Athletic Director Chris May acknowledged that realignment talk isn’t going anywhere in all of college sports.

“Conference realignment is in a lot of people’s conversations,” he said. “What I’m focused on is what’s going on in this tournament to move our basketball programs forward. It’s a great basketball league. It has had a great year and will continue to be a good basketball league.”

The cycle that’s occurring in college sports is that when a league rises up or a program distinguishes itself, it becomes susceptible to poaching. (Think Boise, Utah and TCU in football or the latest rounds of rumors regarding tradition basketball powers like Davidson and Belmont.) This Atlantic 10 tournament feels a bit like Conference USA did in 2004, when six schools made the NCAA Tournament with the league on the brink of mass departures -– DePaul, Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette South Florida — to the Big East.

It would not be a shock to see an Atlantic 10 school crash the Final Four this year. St. Louis is the classic rugged veteran team that actually conjures memories of the Butler teams that reached the national title game. VCU and Butler are always excruciating to remove from a bracket because they are so difficult to prepare for. Temple has the league’s best player, Khalif Wyatt.

The last time the Atlantic 10 had this many teams bound for the NCAAs was 1998, when Skip Prosser (Xavier), Phil Martelli (Saint Jospeh’s), Mike Jarvis (George Washington), Bruiser Flint (UMass) and Jim Harrick (Rhode Island) all coached in the Atlantic-10.

After Butler’s win over LaSalle on Friday afternoon, Bulldogs Coach Brad Stevens deftly avoided a question about the unstable environment. Stevens lauded the Atlantic 10’s Tournament set up, organization and clearly appreciated the backdrop of New York.

When asked about Butler’s future, which will likely include a Subway ride to Penn Station for the postseason next year, he said, “I don’t know anything.”

And after that, he hustled off to the bus to prepare for St. Louis tomorrow, disappearing in New York minute.


     The fact of the matter is Butler and Xavier are going to leave no matter how much the league wants them to stay.  For Butler it is less of an issue as they only joined the conference this season, but Xavier would be a blow.  With Temple and Charlotte already heading out the conference is not going to be the same.  The Atlantic 10 is consistently one of the stronger non-football conferences in the country, other than the Missouri Valley and they have a chance to respond and stay a factor in the ever changing world of college sports.

  If they do indeed lose St. Louis and Dayton, they league will need to find schools to replace them to keep their strength high. With Massachusetts looking to cash in on football it is likely they will be the next to leave and the Atlantic 10 will have Virginia Commonwealth as a power with not many schools to challenge them.  Since basketball is a priority for the new Big East it is likely the Atlantic 10 will be seen as the best target for additional schools and if the conference wants to maintain its viability I suggest adding schools that have made noise nationally, even if only a blip, to become the best of the non-football conferences other than the New Big East.  

     While my suggestions are nothing more than an over obsessed opinion, I think the following targets would be a great addition to a weakening conference.  As it stands now with Butler and Xavier leaving and the likely departures of St. Louis and Dayton the conference will have Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond, George Washington, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, St. Joseph's, La Salle, Duquesne, Fordham, and St. Bonaventure. Not exactly a power conference, but with certain additions I think they can upgrade their profile again.  George Mason would be a great fit.  They would have a built in rivalry with George Washington and have a regional rivalry with both Virginia Commonwealth and Richmond.  They are a great fit for the conference. The CAA is a good conference and the Atlantic 10 could be a better upgrade for George Mason and reinstate the Virginia Commonwealth rivalry.  

      I think the addition of Drexel would be a great fit because of their location in Philadelphia to join both St. Joseph's and La Salle.  It would keep the three Philadelphia based schools as a point for the conference.  The rest of the additions would be difficult.  A twelve team league would be perfect, but with the changing landscape I think fourteen schools, with an eighteen game conference schedule would be perfect.  Since the conference is losing the Indiana and Ohio markets, Valapariso and Cleveland State would be great fits for the conference and give them something to work with in the scheduling department as well.  Playing seven teams twice each year would help generate rivalries and get the exposure the conference needs to stay strong.  I think adding schools now would be a beneficial as the Missouri Valley could be inclined to replace Creighton and seek a school to join their conference and the Atlantic 10 could be left behind.  

       I would rather see Wichita St. replace St. Louis and Valapariso replace Butler, but sometimes things do not work out the way they should.  Barring that the Atlantic 10 could add the non-football CAA schools such as Northeastern (to offset the likely loss of Massachusetts) and UNC-Wilmington to replace Charlotte.  Hofstra and Detroit would be nice fits as well.  I think the conference would be better by dropping Fordham and St. Bonaventure, but that is not likely to happen.  The Atlantic 10 has an opportunity to be proactive and prepare rather than wait and see and find themselves and the bottom of the conference food chain.  

      With the CAA adding Albany and Stony Brook for football on the I-AA level (I refuse to acknowledge the reclassification of  FCS) the conference is looking to become a major I-AA power, even more than they already are and it might be possible to poach a few of the non-football schools. With the College of Charleston joining the CAA next year could the Atlantic 10 be better off adding them and Davidson to create a solid North and South conference that not many other conferences can claim? Ideally I would like to see the Atlantic 10 keep Butler, Xavier, Dayton, St. Louis and Massachusetts, but that is not realistic so I think the Atlantic 10 with the following schools would be a conference worthy of recruits looking to get into: Virginia Commonwealth, Richmond, George Washington, George Mason, Davidson, College of Charleston, La Salle, St. Joseph's, Rhode Island, St, Bonaventure, Duquesne, Fordham, Northeastern, and Drexel.  If you cannot get Davidson or College of Charleston adding Valapariso and Detroit might be the ideal situation.  Although I think having Wichita State would be better.