There is little doubt that Atlantic 10 basketball will improve when St. Louis University and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte join the league for the 2005-06 season. But the move affects more than just basketball.
The two schools officially accepted the A-10’s invitation to join the league earlier this week and should make their presence felt in all A-10 sports, as both the 49ers and the Billikens boast a variety of strong athletic programs.
Many GW coaches praised the expansion this week, calling the move beneficial to their teams and to the league in general, especially from a competitive and recruiting perspective. The only concerns coaches cited were increased travel expenses and how the league’s East and West divisions will be realigned, which has yet to be determined.
Men’s soccer is a clear example of an A-10 sport that should be on the rise in a few years, as St. Louis is a perennial powerhouse. The nine-time national champion Billikens have earned trips to the NCAA Tournament a remarkable 37 out of the last 39 years and are currently ranked sixth in the country in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll.
“It’s a great thing for us,” GW men’s soccer head coach George Lidster said. “It should improve the standing of the A-10 as a soccer conference. It should also help give us a recruiting position in the Midwest. We haven’t had too many top players from that area.”
Lidster said the new conference alignment is a concern for him but that the extra traveling would be enjoyable for his team, which recently took a trip to California to play two games in September.
Volleyball head coach Jojit Coronel said travel expenses might increase but that overall, the additions of Charlotte and St. Louis will strengthen the A-10 as a volleyball league.
“If you put either Charlotte or St. Louis in our conference right now, they’d be in the top two to five teams,” he said. “Conference USA is very good in volleyball. Soon, it’s going to be a lot tougher to get to the A-10 Championships.”
Coronel also said the expansion could help increase GW’s Ratings Percentage Index in volleyball, adding, “The move could allow us to gain an at-large bid into the (NCAA) tournament.”
Sophomore volleyball player Lindsay Vernand said she is looking forward to a heightened level of competition in GW’s league.
“It could change in a few years, but both schools have very strong programs,” she said. “I think it’s a really good move. I guess the only drawback is that it’s a long way to St. Louis.”
Other GW teams that will face St. Louis and Charlotte in league play include baseball, women’s soccer, lacrosse, softball and men’s and women’s tennis.
Baseball in particular should also improve with the expansion. Both St. Louis and Charlotte finished last season with sub-.500 records but faced a tough Conference USA schedule, which included games against Tulane University and the University of Southern Mississippi, two teams that make frequent trips into the NCAA Tournament. Charlotte also finished second in C-USA in women’s soccer this past fall.