- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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The Atlantic 10 has discussed the possibility of a 21-team basketball league in the event that the changing conference landscape makes high-profile Big East schools available, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com Tuesday.
The A-10 has been proactive during the past year, strengthening its brand as a high-profile basketball conference with the additions of Butler and VCU, two programs that were in the 2011 Final Four.
The A-10 is a 16-team conference for the 2012-13 season, but Temple and Charlotte are set to leave for the Big East and Conference USA, respectively.
The 21-team model would occur if the A-10 were to add the seven Big East Catholic schools (Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova) that met Sunday in New York with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco to go over their options.
The seven schools are attempting to secure the best television deal possible and are debating whether to split from the Big East.
The seven schools have a majority vote, with the three remaining FBS members being Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida. But the group of seven doesn't have the two-thirds vote to dissolve the league. Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the Owls are a full voting member, even though they don't join in all sports until July 1, 2013.
Industry sources say they couldn't see how or why Temple would side with the seven Catholic schools to vote to dissolve the league.
The seven Big East Catholic schools would have a hard time leaving because they would have to forgo NCAA tournament assets. But the A-10 would welcome them with open arms and promise a more lucrative television deal. The A-10 signed a new rights deal with NBC, CBS and ESPN but hasn't finished all of its rights fees, especially its digital platform.
The A-10, according to the source, has been paying attention to the Big East moves and have discussed how a 21-team conference would work.
There could be two 10-team divisions or a true 20-game conference schedule, with 10 home and 10 road games, by playing everyone once.
To sell the plan to the seven Big East Catholic schools, the A-10 would point to its stability, plus the opportunity to join like-minded institutions Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis and Richmond, as well as powers VCU and Butler, in major media markets on the East Coast, industrial Midwest and the heartland.
The source said the seven Catholic schools won't have to rush into a decision, due to the legal mess that would result from trying to leave. The source said the A-10 "is in a position of strength with the current 14 and would absolutely be open to going to 21."