Atlantic 10 Expansion: How Big East Affects Plans for VCU, George Mason, Butler

Scott Henry@@4QuartersRadioFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2012

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 17:  Head coach Shaka Smart and Rob Brandenberg #11 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams walk off the court after losing to the Indiana Hoosiers 63-61 during the third round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Rose Garden Arena on March 17, 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The Atlantic 10 is already one of college basketball's strongest non-BCS conferences, led by perennially solid programs like Xavier, Richmond and Saint Louis. Even the A-10, however, has not been immune to the crazed climate of conference realignment.

In 2013, the A-10 will lose one of its bellwether schools as Temple waves goodbye and becomes a full member of the Big East. In response, the league has been linked with a trio of leaders from other conferences, all of whom have made recent Final Four appearances.

Butler, which had ruled the Horizon League for five years until being deposed in 2011-12, has an agreement "all but signed" to join the Atlantic 10 for the 2013-14 season.

The Bulldogs bring the prestige of national runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011. No current A-10 member has reached a national final since Dayton—then an independent—in 1967.

Butler has also been the only Horizon member to earn an at-large tournament bid since 1998. Atlantic 10 membership presents an even greater chance to earn such a bid, as the league has sent at least three members to each of the last five NCAA tournaments.

In addition, the A-10 is reportedly in talks with Colonial Athletic Association kingpins, Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason. GMU reached the Final Four in 2006, and VCU battled Butler in the 2011 semifinals.

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An ironic twist to the story is that the same unrest that has prompted the Big East to pluck Temple could also be interfering with the A-10's effort to add replacements.

Hampton Roads (Va.) Daily Press columnist David Teel has reported that VCU's outgoing athletic director, Norwood Teague, is recommending that the school remain in the CAA for at least one more season.

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 02:  Matt Howard #54 of the Butler Bulldogs rebounds the ball while taking on the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the National Semifinal game of the 2011 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship at Reliant Stadium on April 2, 20
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

VCU may be holding off until the simmering tension between the Big East's FBS football members and its basketball-oriented schools can be resolved.

Preseason reports of the seven non-FBS members considering a split into their own basketball conference were not advanced during basketball season. Still, if such a league did form, Xavier and Dayton would be natural additions connecting Notre Dame, DePaul and Marquette to their east coast opponents.

Losing Xavier and Dayton would do further damage to the A-10's basketball brand and make it a less attractive destination for a solid program like VCU.

Reports have yet to surface regarding how VCU's plans would affect George Mason's decision. If one or both decide to bolt, Old Dominion could be watching intently.

Like fellow Colonial member Georgia State, which is headed for the Sun Belt to accommodate its new FBS football program, ODU is pondering its options. Leaving the CAA for some other league—like the Sun Belt or Conference USA—would likely entail a premature rise to FBS for its own program, which is only entering its fourth season.

Such a move would not be necessary if ODU headed to the Atlantic 10, but no reports have suggested that the A-10 would consider an invitation.

Either way, if the planned Colonial exodus continues, the last team out may need to turn off the lights. Meanwhile, Horizon members like Valparaiso, Detroit and Cleveland State may enjoy not having Butler to kick them around anymore.


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