Butler will join a loaded Atlantic 10 a year ahead of schedule

It won't take long to settle the debate over whether Butler can emerge as an instant contender in the Atlantic 10.

Instead of formally joining in its new league in 2013 as it originally planned last month, the school announced it will leave the Horizon League immediately and begin play in the A-10 next fall.

The wording of statements from both Butler athletic director Barry Collier and A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade suggest the Horizon League may not have allowed the Bulldogs to compete in postseason conference tournaments next season had they stayed. VCU left the CAA immediately rather than remaining an extra season for the very same reason.

"The unexpected circumstances that precipitated Butler's request to move immediately were unfortunate, but we will welcome Butler into the A-10 as a valuable new member," McGlade said. "The Atlantic 10 has the potential to have the strongest year in league history in 2012-13 with 16 outstanding programs."

What McGlade said about the strength of next season's A-10 is no hyperbole. With Butler and VCU in the fold and Temple and Charlotte not set to depart until the following year, the league will be loaded enough that four or five NCAA tournament berths would be a reasonable goal.

VCU returns every rotation player besides Bradford Burgess from a team that nearly made the Sweet 16. Saint Louis again should be a Top 25 contender with everyone except forward Brian Conklin back. Butler adds sweet-shooting Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke to a roster whose poor perimeter shooting was its biggest weakness. And don't forget perennial powers Xavier and Temple, which figure to still contend despite heavy personnel losses.

The immediate impact for Butler might be addressing its non-conference schedule, which has been loaded with power-conference foes the past couple years to make up for the weakness of the Horizon League.

The Bulldogs still need to play a strong early-season slate, but last year's schedule included Louisville, Indiana, Purdue, Xavier, Gonzaga and Stanford. A repeat of that plus the A-1o schedule would be quite a challenge even for a Butler team that figures to be back in NCAA tournament contention.

Regardless, Butler is thankful the Atlantic 10 accommodated its request to change leagues sooner than later.

"Since announcing our intention to depart after 2012-13, Butler and the Horizon League have discussed the terms for next season," Collier said in a statement..  Ultimately, it was in our best interest to reach an agreement with the Horizon League for immediate departure."

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