Likely Changes Looming for the Atlantic 10
The Big East is in danger as seven basketball schools have decided to break away from the conference, according to ESPN, and the breakup could have an effect on the Atlantic 10.
The seven Catholic schools departing from the Big East (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanova) have made the decision to leave amidst unrest with the conference’s negotiations over a new television contract and other schools leaving for other conferences.
For the Atlantic 10, George Washington’s conference, this could be an amazing opportunity, or it could be the makings of a disaster.
The best-case scenario for the Atlantic 10 would be allowing the seven schools to join the conference. ESPN reported that the A-10 would be open to expansion in the event that the Big East teams were available and willing to join them.
The Atlantic 10 currently has 16 basketball schools, after adding Butler and Virginia Commonwealth to its ranks after last season. After this season, Temple will leave to join the Big East and Charlotte is leaving to join Conference USA. Adding the seven former Big East schools would expand the conference to 21 teams.
If this were to happen, the Atlantic 10, already one of the most prolific conferences in the country, sending four teams to the NCAA tournament last season, has a chance to be the best basketball conference in the country. Recent additions, Butler and VCU, have already added even more tournament experience to the conference as VCU made the Final Four in 2011 and Butler was the National Runner Up for two straight years in 2010 and 2011. Adding traditional basketball powerhouses like Villanova and Georgetown would do nothing but great things for the A-10. As for GW fans, it would finally give us the game against DC rival Georgetown that we have been asking for since the last time the schools played in 1981.
Unfortunately, it appears that the schools that chose to break away from the Big East are trying to go in a different direction. Notre Dame coach and GW alumnus Mike Brey told ESPN that some of the nation’s top Catholic schools, including Creighton, Gonzaga, and Atlantic 10 members Xavier, Dayton, and Saint Louis, along with possibly St. Mary’s, have discussed joining the Catholic schools leaving the Big East to form a Catholic basketball conference. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has also mentioned Butler as a school expected to join the Catholic conference, should it be formed.
If the Catholic schools do start their own conference, and if Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis, and Butler decide to join that conference, it could be devastating for the Atlantic 10. St. Bonaventure, the Cinderella winner of the conference tournament last season, and VCU would be the only teams remaining in the conference that made the NCAA Tournament last season. It would lose two of its most traditionally successful schools, in Xavier and Dayton, and two of its most recently successful schools, in Saint Louis and Butler. It also means that six of the conference’s top seven schools for men’s basketball attendance, including Temple and Charlotte, would no longer be in the conference, according to the Atlantic 10.
The next step for the conference would be to expand. The Atlantic 10 would be down to 10 teams again, but have shown in the past through expansion that 10 teams are not enough, especially if it wants to remain one of the best mid-major conferences in the NCAA. Two options would be to expand south or expand west.
With the loss of Butler, Xavier, Dayton, and Saint Louis, the Atlantic 10 would lose its entire Midwest market, so I would suggest searching there for new schools. The Atlantic 10 could look to the Horizon League again, where Butler played from 1979 until last season. Teams like Detroit or Cleveland State have had success recently and are in big Midwest sports markets.
When looking south, the A-10 could target the Colonial Athletic Association, the conference VCU played in from 1995 until last season. Eye-catching teams in the CAA include UNC-Wilmington, James Madison, and GW’s Orange Line rivals George Mason, though they were not looking to join the A-10 when the conference expanded last season.
There is no timetable on when the Big East schools would be allowed to leave the conference or when a Catholic conference would be formed, but, should it happen, the Atlantic 10 needs to be ready, because there could be some dark days for what was looking like such a bright conference.