Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference.
Just one month ago today, Duquesne President Charles Dougherty wrote to his Board of Trustees:
The A10 conference itself is on the verge of a major improvement with the addition of new high quality university programs. All of this amounts to an exciting professional opportunity for a new coach…
Dr. Dougherty’s email was supposed to assure Duquesne’s Board of Trustees that the prospects for attracting a quality replacement for the just-fired Ron Everhart were strong, but CBSSports.com’s Brett McMurphy saw this message as an unintended confirmation that the Atlantic 10 Conference was about to consummate a blockbuster expansion deal. This deal is rumored to bring Colonial Athletic Association members Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason, along with Horizon League member Butler, into what is already arguably the best non-power conference basketball conference in Division I. Faced with the loss of Temple for the 2013-14 basketball season, speculation since late February has centered on Butler and the Virginia universities as possible replacements for the Owls. Reaction to McMurphy’s report ranged from a vehement denial by VCU to a nuanced acknowledgement by Butler University President James Danko that a move to the A-10 was far from certain but worthy of study.Officials from both the A-10 and the CAA also denied talks were taking place.
The story fell off of the national radar relatively quickly at the end of March, but Lenn Robbins’ tweet last Friday afternoon (“George Mason and VCU to the A-10 on May 1…Butler probably…The [New York] Post has learned”) ignited a six-hour flurry of tweets and counter-tweets as national (Andy Katz: “A-10 commish Bernadette McGlade and CAA commish Tom Yeager deny report GMU and VCU are heading to A-10.”) and regional (Adam Zagoria: “Source on Mason/VCU to the A-10: ‘I would be shocked if it doesn’t happen.’ ”) basketball writers weighed in with almost equal parts affirmation and denial.
Is another round of conference realignment imminent? The Conference USA-Mountain West Conference merger (for football) may have foundered in the last months and Virginia Commonwealth may have issued yet another flat-out denial Friday, but sportswriters Dave Fairbank and David Teel from the Atlantic-10’s “hometown newspaper,” the Newport News Daily Press, posted articles Friday night and Saturday that tellingly confirmed the nugget of McMurphy’s March 25 article – the Atlantic-10 appears on the verge of expanding to 16 teams with three additions that should promote strong rivalries among the schools in the midwestern and southern regions of the conference’s sprawling footprint, and provide a huge inventory of 288 conference games with a number of very interesting matchups that will attract plenty of suitors when the current contract with CBS expires in March 2013.
The Atlantic-10 will lose Temple at the end of next season, but should George Mason, VCU and Butler join as expected, schedule makers will expand the conference schedule to 18 games giving each member three home/away series and 12 home or away games with the other 12 members. The conference will be able to hold down travel costs by pairing the midwestern teams (Saint Louis, Butler, Dayton and Xavier) with home-away series while sending them into the other regions for single games only. The five southern teams (George Washington, Richmond, VCU, George Mason and Charlotte) would be paired similarly, with the Pennsylvania teams (Duquesne, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle) as options to balance out the home-away travel costs. While the A-10 has routinely drawn two or three at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament (13 in the seven-season period of 2006-12), and half of the conference members have at least one Final Four appearance on their resume, no conference team has run to the Final Four since John Calipari’s Massachusetts Minutemen did so in 1996.
Of course, VCU, Butler and George Mason have all played on the final weekend in the last seven seasons. The Atlantic 10 is clearly thinking ahead as a basketball conference, something that the football-heavy power conference might do well to consider from time to time.
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