When Butler and VCU left smaller conferences in favor of the Atlantic 10 this past season, they both validated that decision by cracking the top four in the league standings and making the NCAA tournament.
Such success is also possible for the Atlantic 10's newest potential addition, but chances are it will take longer to attain.
CBSSports.com reported Sunday night that the Atlantic 10 is close to adding Southern Conference power Davidson in time for the 2014-15 school year, a move designed to help the league absorb the impending loss of Temple, Xavier and Butler. The Atlantic 10 could also lose Dayton and Saint Louis to the new Big East if those schools receive offers.
Ditching the backwaters of the Southern Conference for a wealthier, stronger league is a major gamble for a Davidson program that has thrived at its current level but will have to prove it can handle a step up in class.
In the past 12 seasons, Davidson has won its half of the SoCon nine times, made six NCAA tournament appearances and landed two NIT bids. The Wildcats won 26 games this past season and went 17-1 in league play, advancing to the NCAA tournament where they lost to third-seeded Marquette by a single point.
The advantage of moving up to the Atlantic 10 would be joining a league that can offer far more exposure and TV revenue and the chance to compete for at-large NCAA tournament bids, something nearly impossible in the Southern Conference. Among the disadvantages are traveling longer distances to conference road games in the Northeast and entering a league where some schools pour more money into basketball than Davidson currently does.
From charter flights to road games, to seven-figure coaching salaries, to ample recruiting budgets, to facilities upgrades, Butler and VCU were either already on par with the top programs in the Atlantic 10 or moving in that direction.
Davidson isn't Butler, nor is it VCU.
This is a small liberal arts school with an enrollment of less than 2,000 undergraduate students, a modest-sized gym and a head coach who makes about a third of what Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart do. Davidson draws about 4,000 fans to every home game, buses to road games in league play and wins with recruits often not even on the fringes of the Rivals 150.
Even with Butler, Temple and Xavier gone, Davidson would have to invest more into its basketball program to level the playing field with Dayton, VCU, Saint Louis and the rest of the upper half of the Atlantic 10.
Coach Bob McKillop has proven to be masterful at doing more with less during his tenure at Davidson, taking the Stephen Curry-led Wildcats to the Elite Eight five years ago and pushing Louisville and Marquette the past two seasons. Still, it would be asking a lot of McKillop and future Davidson coaches to win night-in and night-out in a league where the top programs have advantages the Wildcats don't.