In the long run, the implications of Butler's move to the Atlantic 10 in 2013-14 -- with a few caveats, like an increase in budget and travel expenses and the like -- were clear. The Bulldogs were moving to a much better league with natural geographic and spiritual rivals (most notably Xavier and VCU), while the Atlantic 10 was getting one of the best mid-major programs in the country, one that needn't worry about adjusting its current trajectory much to fit right in near the top of the league -- especially when Temple and Charlotte left (for the Big East and Conference USA, respectively) in 2013-14. Win and win.
Turns out, we won't have to wait two years to see Butler introduced into the A-10 wilds. On Tuesday afternoon, the school announced it would be leaving the Horizon League immediately, and will play the 2012-13 season as the newest member of the A-10. According to Andy Katz, "a source with knowledge of the decision [said it] was made in reaction to news that the Horizon League would not allow the Bulldogs to compete for any conference titles or in any conference tournaments in their originally scheduled final season." That's a harsh but arguably understandable move for a conference wary of being picked over and not doing much to fight back, but it also forced Butler's hand; of course the Bulldogs weren't going to forfeit the possibility of a league title and NCAA tournament run next season.
So Brad Stevens and company will be making their A-10 debut a year earlier than expected. I'm guessing -- and this doesn't require much of a mental stretch, honestly -- that A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade is downright thrilled.
For one, her 2012-13 Atlantic 10 will be an absolute beast, a 16-team league featuring the likes of Butler, Xavier, Temple, VCU, St. Louis, Dayton, Saint Joe's, and Massachusetts as potential NCAA tournament contenders. For another, it couldn't come at a better time. In 2013, the Atlantic 10 will move its conference tournament to the glimmering new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the House that Jay-Z and Friends Built.
When the tourney move was announced in September, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. (McGlade cited the league's desire for more exposure in New York, which, well, OK. Whatever.) Now, it looks like the perfect setting to determine the A-10's automatic tournament bid, home to a 16-team event that stands to feature some of the most exciting conference-tourney action in the country. If all goes well, March's A-10 showdown could mix the big-time feel of a BCS conference tourney with a healthy dose of the mid-major do-or-die ethos, and if you're asking if this is something I would be interested in watching, the answer, my friends, is yes.
The league won't be quite this good forever, or even in 2013-14, when the stalwart Temple Owls shuffle over to the Big East. But no matter. In the long run, the A-10 is in great shape. In the short run, after Tuesday's news, it could be one of the best and most exciting conferences in the country.
It's easy to hate conference realignment, and for good reason: It has hurt college basketball far more than it has ever helped. But every once in a while, things work out for the best. This is one of those times.