Thursday, October 4, 2012
Atlantic 10 handles realignment well
Updates with details, quotes. With AP Photos.
By JIM O'CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
NEW YORK -- College basketball has polls and RPIs to let you know which teams are having the best season. There isn't anything to rate the commissioners. If there was, Bernadette McGlade of the Atlantic 10 would be getting some first-place votes.
At a time in college sports when realignment has become part of the lexicon, some leagues come out in good shape with new members that change the outlook for the positive. That, however, usually involves football programs at the forefront.
Not the Atlantic-10.
"One of our biggest keys is we just focused on what are the core values of the conference," said McGlade, who is starting her 13th season as A-10 commissioner. "We're a basketball-centric conference. We can't get distracted by all the other noise out there in the business."
Those must have been some headphones she was wearing.
Temple announced it was leaving for the Big East in March, but the Owls would play one more season in the Atlantic 10. On May 4, Charlotte, which is just starting a football program, announced it would be moving to Conference USA, but again the 49ers would be staying put for the 2012-13 season.
That was two days after Butler, which had been to consecutive national championship games in 2010 and 2011, got the college basketball buzzing when it said it was leaving the Horizon League for the Atlantic 10. About two weeks later, the buzz turned to a roar when VCU, which had been in the Final Four in 2011, said it was leaving the Colonial Athletic Association for the A-10. Both would be playing in their new conference this season.
"The year waiting was so important for us because the CAA rules say you can't play in the conference tournament that year," said VCU coach Shaka Smart, who became one of the most sought after coaches in the country when he led the Rams to the Final Four. "It was huge for us to make the move right away. It was a bold decision by our administrators."
There will be 16 teams in the Atlantic 10 in 2012-13. Forget the jokes about bad math and wrong names, the A-10 survived a summer of realignment as well as any league did, picking up two impressive new members without the league getting gutted.
"What we did, basically, was we knew if we were going to bring in any new members into the league it had to be institutions with a commitment to its men's basketball program and a broad-based athletic program as well," McGlade said Thursday at the league's media day at the Barclays Center. "Given that was our fundamental principle, it was obvious of any institutions like that, Butler and VCU would be in the upper echelon of those programs."
The A-10 has had at least three teams receive a bid to the NCAA tournament and it has had a team advance to the round of 16 in each of the last five seasons.
"Truly this is the next level," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "A league loss on the road will no longer be treated catastrophically. The balance is outstanding. It will keep you up nights. The energy around the Atlantic 10, I've never seen it this high in October. It is extraordinary what the league administrators have done."
The conference tournament moved from Atlantic City, where crowds were never really good, to the Barclays Center, the brand new arena located in Brooklyn and the home of the NBA's Nets. The A-10 announced this week that it has secured eight-year partnerships with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Group for its television rights. The deals give the Atlantic 10 unprecedented distribution and marketing possibilities.
"This was an incredible league to start with," said Butler coach Brad Stevens, who has also been considered for several jobs after the consecutive championship game appearances. "I hope we make it even better. I know VCU does, no question. This league will have multiple bids, the question is how many. Nobody will know that until March."
Saint Joseph's, which has all five starters back from last season, was the preseason pick to win the Atlantic 10 with Saint Louis right behind.
The Hawks, who finished 20-14 last season, received 11 first-place votes and 434 points from the panel of coaches and media. The Billikens, who reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2000, had 10 first-place votes and 432 points. They will not have coach Rick Majerus this season as he took a medical leave of absence in August while undergoing evaluation for an ongoing heart condition. Former Evansville and Army coach Jim Crews was named the interim coach.
VCU was picked third followed by Temple, Massachusetts, Butler, La Salle, Dayton, Xavier, Richmond, St. Bonaventure, Charlotte, George Washington, Fordham, Rhode Island and Duquesne.
Rhode Island and Duquesne both have first-year coaches in Danny Hurley and Jim Ferry. Last year their teams at Wagner and LIU-Brooklyn were picked first and second in the Northeast Conference preseason poll. This season they were chosen Nos. 15 and 16.
"Looks the same as last year if you just hold the paper upside down," Hurley said with a laugh.