With a flag carrier leaving the conference in Temple, the A10 has a chance to build a stronger conference and make itself.
Not rebuild. Not remake.
For the first time since this game of conference realignment musical chairs started, a non-BCS league is in the driver’s seat and is ready to be proactive. This opportunity should be fun. And with the league moving the conference tournament to the new arena in Brooklyn next year (and for the next five years), a new conference on the offer would be a bonus.
Thanks to some leaky intergoogles in western Pennsylvania, the world knows that the A10 is looking to add multiple schools to the new conference. I like it. It’s a good bet that within five years both UMass and Charlotte will follow Temple out of the conference. Both have put King Football firmly behind the wheel and started down a one-way street with no exit ramp. That’s fine. Enjoy the MAC/CUSA-MWC Alliance/Sun Belt. As a result, the A10 would need three schools to maintain the current 14-school membership which seems to be the conference’s preference.
A lot goes into deciding who to add, obviously. On-court success. National brand. Facilities. Institutional profile. Location.
Who I want to see the A10 build with:
Butler: This one is obvious and seems like a lock. Every few days there’s a new report saying the deal is done and presumably both parties are just waiting on the other additions before making an announcement. Brad Stevens’ Bulldogs are a major coup for the A10. They have a national profile and cache. They have an historic home gym. They are a nice bridge between Xavier and St. Louis. They are in a mid-sized market in a basketball crazy state where they have some traction. They will be able to step in immediately and compete with anyone in the conference. They play non-scholarship football. Perfect. Seems impossible to mess this one up.
VCU: The CAA darling has gotten a lot of buzz in regard to a move to the A10. People love to point out their recent Final Four, built in rivalry and travel partner (with the Spiders), and lack of football. All of that is well and good, but I’m inclined at this point to believe CAA commissioner Tom Yeager and VCU AD Norwood Teague when they say there have been no talks and no affiliation changes are forthcoming. For one, VCU runs the CAA. They’re big fish in a small pond. The conference tournament is practically on campus. Travel is easy. Olympic sports are better off in the CAA. As far as exposure and prestige go, I’d think most A10 schools were jealous of VCU’s agreement to have all home games (not otherwise committed) shown on ESPN3 this past season (even if, as I’d guess, VCU had to pay for the privilege). And with some smart scheduling, an at-large bid is possible out of the CAA. The CAA also doesn’t eat its own in conference play the way the A10 has a tendency to do. For some of the same reasons Shaka Smart turned down Illinois, VCU can easily turn down the A10. Sometimes it’s just easier not having to go through the Ohio States, Michigans, Wisconsins, Purdues of the world (or Xavier, Dayton, SLU, UR). Still, I think having the in-town rival would be good for business and good for the league. With Shaka staying around, and the school clearly committed, VCU isn’t going anywhere for awhile. I’m pro, but still doubtful at this point.
Davidson: With Charlotte on the way out the door, the Wildcats would fill the Charlotte hole and provide an upgrade on the court. Davidson has excellent recent success dancing four times since 2006 out of the SoCon. The A10 would be a much better on-court fit for them and take a lot of pressure off of their OOC scheduling. Their home facility also is on par with the A10: on campus, 5,200+ seats, twenty years old, charming-but-not-high-school-ish. They would rank behind only Butler in national cache. Davidson would add to the academic profile of the league (necessary for non-BCS schools when trying to get trustees/board members on board with a move, academics like to be in elite company). Plus, this addition would make the Bonnies feel better about themselves by no longer being the smallest school in the league! The only downside would be keeping the conference stretched out to the south after Charlotte leaves (and the Niners may have some push-back in the interim), but keeping a stake in the North Carolina recruiting fields would be a definite plus.
Fairfield: I’m not sure they’ve been mentioned widely, but they should be. The Stags have a decent basketball tradition even if their last dance was in 1997. The school profile matches the A10. They don’t play football. They fit in the league’s existing footprint (novel!) and provide a bridge between Fordham and URI, which also means another presence in the NYC area. They play home games in a top notch 9,500 seat arena in Bridgeport that, while off campus, would rank with any league facility. Fairfield just hired Sydney Johnson last year as head coach and it would be fun to have another Pete Carril alum and disciple in the league.
Boston U: It’s a great school. It has great facilities, even if they were built for hockey. Boston may be a pro sports town first, but the A10 wouldn’t need a huge percentage of the population to still be drawing a lot of eyes and there are plenty of A10 alums in town. BU also has one distinct advantage over Boston College, the other would-be major college sports option: BU is actually in town. (In many ways, it’s the difference between VCU and UR.) Boston is also a much smaller town than NYC or Phila. If the A10 tournament ever moved to the Garden and the whole A10 invaded the city, the league would be an actual presence. A travel partner for URI would also help the Rams feel more comfortable.
Absent from this list: GMU (recent Final Four yes, but I’m not buying them longterm: still a limited brand and commuter school that doesn’t bring much besides that recent Final Four to the table), ODU (football aspirations), Siena (I see the message board arguments, but really? Siena? That’s going to strike fear into the hearts of the CAA?), Creighton (think this is the Big East? A10 stops at St. Louis) and Cleveland State (don’t make me laugh).
Once the membership is settled-and the smart money is on June for that-then the A10 will have a full year to work out the details and image of the new conference. Scheduling: I’m wary of any kind of pod system, but two divisions (home-and-home with division foes, one game alternating home/away with the other side) makes sense for a conference of that size and strength (i.e., could afford a 19-game conference schedule). Brand: I understand the value in keeping the Atlantic 10 name (the only reason why the hoops-only schools haven’t already-and won’t-left the Big East is the name). Fine, but a new logo, something that acknowledges the fourteen teams, should be in the works along with nice division names. Finally: launch a conference TV network.
All this expansion is fun to talk and hypothesize about, but none of it directly solves the A10’s biggest problem: exposure. None of these new schools are worth dramatically more or less than any other unless (until?) the A10 can improve the distribution of its product. It needs a comprehensive TV deal. Only it doesn’t have to be actually on TV. An online channel would do the trick just fine. Package SpiderTV with the equivalent at other schools and create an online channel…AND DON’T CHARGE A SUBSCRIPTION! Put the channel on the XBox, PS3, Roku, wherever. Add games to ESPN3. Be your own distributor. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Matching radio feeds to the video works great as play-by-play. Add a bi-weekly studio show. Show non-revenue sports with journalism majors as announcers. Show simulcasts from coach’s radio shows. Replay games late night to fill dead air. Anything along these lines would be a vast improvement over regional CBS or cable networks. Be the exclusive home for Xavier, Butler, Richmond, Dayton conference games. Think big. There’s enough of a product here that people will find it.
Out with the old...
People will come. And so will the money.