Richmond addition could mean new rivalry for GW

GW has a new rivalry on its hands as the University of Richmond joined the Atlantic 10 Conference July 1, dividing schools into eastern and western divisions for baseball and basketball.

At least that’s the league’s plan, said Steve Haug, an assistant director of communications for the A-10.

GW and Richmond will compete in the A-10 West Division, along with Dayton, Xavier, Duquesne and La Salle. Temple, St. Joseph’s, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, St. Bonaventure and Fordham will comprise the A-10 East Division.

Richmond accepted an invitation from the A-10’s board of directors in May 2000 to replace Virginia Tech, which departed for the Big East Conference following the 1998-99 season. There are now 12 A-10 teams.

Haug said a rivalry between GW and Richmond should flare up immediately because both schools compete at high levels and are in close proximity of each other. Richmond is already a member of the A-10 football conference and the Spiders were co-champs of the conference in the 2000 season.

“Richmond not only has strong basketball teams but they have a very good baseball program and men’s and women’s soccer teams as well,” Haug said. “We expect them to compete and excel right from the beginning. They won’t have to develop and start from the bottom.”

Conference schedules will not be published before August, but GW and Richmond already have a game scheduled. The Spiders’ first A-10 competition come against the GW women’s soccer team Sept. 24 in Richmond.

Besides a vested interest in a new rivalry, there are other reasons Richmond made the switch.

Spiders men’s basketball head coach John Beilein said Richmond switched from the Colonial Athletic Association for increased television exposure. Beilein said more A-10 games are televised locally and nationally.

Beilein also said Richmond makes sense as an A-10 member because a majority of Richmond students and alumni live in the footprint of the A-10, which is the greater Philadelphia area and up through New York. Richmond, which was the lone private institution in the CAA, will be joining a conference of predominantly private universities.

Besides dividing the A-10 into east and west for basketball and baseball seasons, the Spiders are expected to make the A-10 a more competitive basketball conference.

Last season the Richmond men’s basketball team (22-7) advanced to the National Invitational Tournament, losing to Dayton in the second round.

As Richmond switches conferences, Beilein said if he can continue to recruit players who would be among the best in the CAA, he should be able to field a competitive team in the A-10. This would make for an even hotter GW-Richmond rivalry.

“If we continue to recruit the best players who go to the Colonial Athletic Association, we will have a good team to compete in the Atlantic-10,” Beilein said.

Beilein said his team will be in the rebuilding stages, much like the 2000-01 GW men’s basketball season that went 14-18.

“We are in a rebuilding year,” Beilien said. “We lost five seniors from last season’s team.”

Despite rebuilding, GW men’s assistant basketball coach Darrell Brooks said Richmond will come out strong.

“When you play Richmond, expect quality coaching, disciplined offense and a tough defense,” Brooks said.

The Richmond women’s basketball team (16-12, 10-6 CAA) collected its most victories last season since the 1996-97 season and recently hired former GW administrative assistant Tajama Abraham. Abraham’s signing could add an interesting twist to a new rivalry.

Abraham, who signed as an assistant coach for the Spiders in May, holds the Colonials all-time scoring record with 2,134 points, and all-time records in points per game, 16.4, blocked shots with 326, and points in a season, 675.

Abraham played two seasons in the Women’s National Basketball Association for the Sacramento Monarchs and the Detroit Shock.

Aside from basketball, Richmond will face off with GW in all major A-10 sports including baseball, men’s and women’s cross country, men’s golf, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s swimming and men’s and women’s tennis.

While Richmond is joining the A-10 to compete in 17 of the 22 sports played in the conference, playoff formats will remain mostly unaffected. The two exceptions are basketball and baseball.

Haug said the men’s and women’s basketball playoff format has not been finalized, but all 12 teams will qualify for the playoffs, with at least the top team in the east and west divisions having byes in the first round.

The baseball playoffs will be expanded from four teams that was used during the 2001 season to six teams in a postseason tournament, Haug said.

GW and Massachusetts are the only schools that have remained in the A-10 since its start in 1976. Then it was known as the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League and consisted of eight teams.

Half of the original “Eastern Eight” have joined the Big East Conference. They include the University of Pittsburgh, Villanova University, Rutgers University and Virginia. Penn State University, which was an A-10 member from 1977-79 and 1983-91 is now in the Big 10 Conference.

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