The landscape of college athletics has been changing for some time now. Only this week, the focus was on college basketball.
Butler University, the darlings of the Horizon League, announced Wednesday that it's joining the Atlantic 10 Conference in 2013. Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason, two schools who currently play in the Colonial Athletic Association, may be headed to the A-10 as well. Charlotte is leaving and will join Conference USA.
Adding Butler and subtracting Charlotte will leave the A-10 with 13 schools once Temple heads off to the Big East in 2013. Even without VCU and George Mason, aside from the Big Six (Big East, ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Big 12), the A-10 has solidified itself as the best conference in college basketball.
The addition of Butler is huge, not only for the conference, but for the Bulldogs. Butler has won 139 games since head coach Brad Stevens took over in 2007. That is an average of 27.8 wins per year. The Bulldogs made it to two consecutive NCAA title games in 2010 and 2011. In the process, the little school from Indiana became a major player on the national stage.
Now Butler will have to do it in a conference that features the likes of Xavier, Dayton, and St. Louis. There are no easy nights when you play here. So with the bigger stage comes better competition. The A-10 regularly sends at least three teams to the NCAA tournament. Furthermore, the league has received 41 at-large bids in the past 20 years.
While Butler benefits from the move, the A-10 is the real winner. This is a conference that needed a big rebound after Temple announced that it was leaving for the Big East. What the A-10 got was better than anyone could have expected.
When word first got out that Butler might be interested in joining the conference, many questioned why the Bulldogs would leave the Horizon, a league they came to dominate year in, year out. Others pointed to the travel demands. In the end, Butler recognized the value of moving to the A-10. The Bulldogs, who two years in a row played in the national championship game, wanted in. That says a lot about the league.
The good news doesn't stop there. A new media rights deal is expected to come this summer. Considering that the league is adding a marquee program and has nine schools in the top 25 media markets in the country, it should be a profitable one. There is also this: The A-10 has announced that starting in 2013 its postseason tournament will take place at the brand new Barclays Center, set to open later this year in Brooklyn, New York. So the Big East, if you can even recognize that league with all the additions and subtractions, has a neighbor, one that just leased a brand new arena in a hot spot. With the Big East losing a major part of its identity as a result of realignment, the A-10 has a chance to compete in the Big Apple.
A few months ago, at the peak of the college sports transformation, it looked like the A-10 could come apart. Rumors had Xavier and Dayton leaving for the Big East. That would have been devastating. If the Musketeers and Flyers had decided to bolt, it's hard to imagine Butler being here. Instead, the A-10 held on to its marquee programs and added one more for good measure.
When you add it all up, the Atlantic 10 is enjoying its finest hour.
Charles Costello is a graduate of Fordham University, an Atlantic 10 school. He has covered the Rams as a beat reporter and broadcaster. Costello has followed the A-10 since Fordham joined the conference in 1995.
Atlantic 10 Conference: http://www.atlantic10.com/sports/m-baskbl/atl10-m-baskbl-body.html