Magic number for hoops leagues: 10

Originally Published: July 12, 2013
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

St. Mary's-GonzagaWilliam Mancebo/Getty ImagesThe WCC and other 10-team leagues have the benefit of playing a true round-robin schedule.

For a basketball-driven conference, the number 10 is perfect.

That lineup allows for a true round-robin schedule of 18 league games. As nonconference games are tough to find, more conference games are a must.

Alignment started at the top, but the trickle-down to the lower level of Division I has actually streamlined a number of conferences for the 2013-14 season that seems to be met with a sense of starting anew -- for the better.

That's why, in taking Quinnipiac and Monmouth, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference actually did the Northeast Conference a favor. The NEC was too big at 12 and needed to trim down to be a more manageable league.

Getting to 10, even if it wasn't a conference's choice, has been embraced by leagues such as the WCC, CAA, Missouri Valley, Patriot and NEC.

Alignment may not be done, but for now, these conferences have found their peace.

"We looked around the table and we all wanted to be here," NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said about the departure of Quinnipiac and Monmouth. The former was expected because the Bobcats were anxious to get out, but Monmouth's move was a bit of a surprise.

"We looked around the room and realized we don't need to add at this moment unless there is value added," Morris said. "We know who we are and what we want for a good student-athlete experience."

The NEC stretches from the Pittsburgh area to Rhode Island and down to Maryland. There was enough of a strain within the conference that adding anything else had to make total sense.

The Patriot League didn't have to expand. The conference had been much like the Ivy League, an academic-rich conference with like-minded institutions. But the opportunity presented itself to get into Boston and Baltimore with two private schools -- Boston University out of the America East, and Loyola (Md.) out of the MAAC.

"We never felt compelled to get to 10," Patriot League commissioner Carolyn Schlie Femovich said. "But it makes a lot of sense. These schools are in the footprint of our conference."

Femovich said BU and Loyola had been discussed in previous meetings, well before both were invited. She said the conference looked at their school profile in the past. Femovich said she would never say never to adding more schools, but they are not aggressively going after anyone else.

"We need to be true to our values and conference and institutional goals," she said. "But you always have to be ready to make a decision."

[+] EnlargeJamie Zaninovich
George Frey/Getty ImagesJamie Zaninovich landed BYU in the WCC after it went independent in football.

The WCC grabbed BYU when the Cougars were looking for a home once they decided to go independent in football. Going to nine schools wasn't ideal. Opting to go to 10 by grabbing Pacific out of the Big West, a one-time WCC member, fit the footprint.

WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said the 10th school had to be one that moved the needle. He said Pacific did; otherwise, the WCC would have stayed at nine. Getting to 10 gave the WCC the right inventory of games. The member schools were already playing the Stockton-based school in a number of sports.

"It depends on your geography if it can benefit going to 10," Zaninovich said. "Ten works for us. Ten works for most, as long as it's the right 10."

The Missouri Valley could have stayed pat at nine after the Big East poached private school Creighton. But MVC commissioner Doug Elgin knew 10 was more palatable. The Valley had fallen for the double-round-robin 18-game schedule. So the league hierarchy went on a tour, mostly reviewing a few schools in the Horizon League, and was intrigued by the potential of Loyola (Chicago), a private university.

"We had a lot of good choices, and they were fairly equal but we were blown away by Loyola's commitment and vibrant and positive mindset," Elgin said. The Valley wanted to preserve the split of four private and six public schools.

"I think we are stable," Elgin said. "But we're not immune to change. So we have to be resilient."

Resilient is exactly what the Colonial Athletic and Sun Belt conferences had to be after they were plucked apart by Conference USA and the A-10.

The CAA lost George Mason to the A-10 after VCU left last year. Georgia State was off to the Sun Belt in a lateral, football-driven move. Old Dominion bolted to Conference USA for football.

The CAA had to make a move and got the College of Charleston. The hope was to also get Davidson, but the Wildcats got a better offer from the A-10. So Elon was next. Charleston is on board for the upcoming season to get the CAA to nine. Elon will join in 2014 from the Southern to get the CAA to the magic 10.

Moving the conference tournament from Richmond to Baltimore for the first time in more than two decades is also causing plenty of angst and excitement for the CAA.

"For all the challenges we face with scheduling, 18 conference games was something good for our schools," CAA commissioner Tom Yeager said.

The next movement out of the CAA could be James Madison, which is weighing what it will do with football. If it were to upgrade, then the first phone call could be to join ODU in C-USA. If that were to happen, then C-USA would have to grab one more school to get to an even number, likely looking toward the Sun Belt again.

"I'm not too concerned at this point," Yeager said of JMU leaving.

New Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson knew when he was jumping off the then-sinking WAC ship in February 2012 that the Sun Belt would be grossly affected by alignment.

"We added seven and lost five," he said. "While I didn't want us to go through that, we did well."

Benson also added Idaho and New Mexico State as football-only schools to throw a bone to two former WAC league members who had to find a home for football.

"I like our trade of schools," he said.

What's next in realignment? The James Madison question will need to be answered. Will the Big East stop at 10, or believe it must be at 12 to satisfy its television partner's (Fox) need for more inventory?

But the Big East is still trying to get off the ground for the fall, and new commissioner Val Ackerman hasn't shown any early signs of expanding. Still, the A-10 would be the prime plucking area if the Big East were to take on two more. The American could always look to take UMass -- a candidate before Tulsa was chosen -- which would be from the A-10, too.

The Big 12, which is pleasantly pleased to be at 10, will need to assess how the new college football playoff affects it with no championship game, because every other major conference will have one. BYU football still needs to decide whether it wants to stay independent.

And UTEP would love to be in the Mountain West instead of C-USA, according to industry sources.

All of these moves likely would affect conferences below.

"Realignment has always been a trickle-down," Elgin said. "There is movement every year. I don't think for a minute that there's not going to be more movement from this point forward. Where and when it happens at the highest level remains to be seen."

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com