As the dust settled from last year’s conference realignment, it seemed the Atlantic 10 was established in a position of unique strength. Though Temple and Charlotte announced impending departures, the additions of VCU and Butler made the league one of the few to get stronger amid the shuffle.
Then, the December announcement that seven schools – the “Catholic 7” – would leave the Big East to form their own conference introduced new speculation into the shifting landscape of collegiate sports. There’s a possibility that various A-10 schools, including Butler, Dayton, Saint Louis and Xavier, may leave the conference to join the Catholic 7.
But athletic director Patrick Nero is preaching patience. Though the future seems uncertain, he acknowledged, the A-10’s history, combined with its recent improvements, is proof that the league won’t take a realignment hit.
“Historically, this has been kind of part of the fabric of the Atlantic 10 if you look through the past thirty years,” Nero said. “Sometimes they left one at a time, two at a time, three at a time. What the Atlantic 10 has always done really well has been to be prepared when a member leaves, we’ve been ready to act and act quickly.”
Nero said he has been in touch with athletic directors from some schools that could be affected by the Catholic 7 announcement, and added that ultimately, the decision will come down to the attributes they decide are most attractive for their programs. Everything from television markets, religious affiliations and geographic location could come into play, he said.
But the tone of the discussions among members of the A-10 is not one of panic, Nero said. While he pointed out that all talks are “pure speculation,” at least until further announcements are made, he said that the league is preparing for “five or six different scenarios,” depending on the amount and location of schools that could depart the league.
The recent searches that resulted in the additions of VCU and Butler are a boon, Nero added, because other schools that could have garnered an invitation during that process remain attractive options for the league.
“I do think that you will see a pretty quick reaction on behalf of the Atlantic 10 to say, ‘we’re ready,’ because we’ve been very proactive in our planning,” Nero said. “There’s always a chance we could add somebody prior to the Catholic 7 making their announcement. That’s always a possibility. It just depends on their timing.”
University President Steven Knapp, who serves as chair of the Atlantic 10 Conference Council of Presidents, also chairs a membership expansion committee, which combines various league athletic directors and presidents. While the group stopped meeting after the additions of VCU and Butler, Nero said discussions have picked up again in the wake of the Big East announcement.
Nero said he and Knapp are frequently in contact with A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade as well as other members of the group. Knapp added that the full council of presidents meets twice a year, but communicates by telephone “whenever there is a need for a quick decision,” and said he was in “regular contact” with McGlade.
“We will continue to evaluate potential new members, as we were already doing before the Big East voted to dissolve itself,” Knapp said. “In this ongoing evaluation, we will continue to focus on universities that share both our strong commitment to intercollegiate athletics and our academic values.”
Both Nero and Knapp feel the A-10 is prepared to address whatever changes may come its way. Patience is needed as the conference and its fans wait for further announcements to be made, Nero pointed out, but he said the league remains an attractive package, boosted by a lucrative new media rights deal and the men’s basketball championship tournament’s move to the Barclays Center.
The shake-up could, too, end in a stronger A-10, like the 21-team league ESPN speculated about amid the Catholic 7’s announcement.
“I think we’ve also learned to be patient, so if we lose two or three, it may take time. We might drop down a little bit as a conference. But we’ve always been able to recover, so I think, from our standpoint, we will have to make sure we continue to do the things we’ve always done,” Nero said. “No other non- football-sponsored-conference has had the history the Atlantic 10 has in regards to being successful in the [NCAA] basketball tournament.”