Temple Replacement: The Four Favorites

By Steve DiMiceli
Discuss on YukuDukes

Over the next week or so, I'm going to begin to look at potential A-10 expansion candidates with Temple looking like they are on their way out. Today, I will look at the 4 teams I see as the favorites to win an invitation, Butler, George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, and Old Dominion.

To evaluate which of those schools fits the best into the current shell of the conference, I broke it down into 5 categories; Current Brand, Untapped Potential, Facilities, Market/Share, and finally Geography. The first 4 are rated on a 10 point scale while location is a cumulative score where other schools within 120 miles gets 2points, schools within 300 (or 5 hours with traffic considerations) gets 1 and within 500 (or a long single day bus trip) gets  .5.

Butler, VCU and George Mason all bring a certain good feeling amongst college basketball ball fans. Even if their cinderella runs completely blew up your bracket, it was hard not to root for these teams against the Goliath's of the sport. With back to back championship runs, the Butler Bulldogs have become something of a legend and the memory of those runs will long outlast the memory of the teams that beat them. They were the story, not the eventual champions. The A-10 could add a great number of BCS teams that would have a less significant impact on the overall brand of the conference than Butler. In fact in a straight trade, I think adding Butler does as much to help the leagues image right now losing Temple does to hurt it. The program overall is not as good but in terms of perception, it might be slightly better than Temple's. VCU had another stunning run last year, but there's may have been overshadowed by Butler's back to back runs to the championship. They have a coach who is regarded as a star and regular role in the NCAA postseason. George Mason was the first of the mid majors/double digit seeds to make the seemingly impossible run to the final 4. Being the first, makes you a bit more memorable and I think it helps their brand compared to VCU. However, they lost their somewhat iconic coach. Old Dominion lags behind the rest but they've made their fair share of NCAA tournament appearances. The hard core NCAA fan knows and respects them but the casual fan who picks up a game here or there will have no greater interest in them than a lot of the other mid level A-10 schools.

It's difficult to say that a team makes the NCAA tournament finals in back to back seasons and mid majors who make final four runs have untapped potential, but they do. None of these teams is a perennial NCAA tournament team because the conference they play in defaults as a one bid league. VCU, and Old Dominion 1 at large bid, George Mason has 2 while Butler has 3 bids over the last 10 years. Compare that to Xavier's 7. While league affliation is not hurting Butler as much as the CAA schools, it's certainly not helping either. All of the schools could improve attendance and revenue with the increased quality of opponent the A-10 will bring. While George Mason's out of conference home games against A-10 schools did not match their conference attendance, they did average about 5000 a game compared to the roughly 2500 they averaged against the rest of it. Butler will sell out some but not all of it's games to weaker Horizon opponents. The same can be said for Old Dominion in the CAA. The only team of the 4 that has sold out their building every game this year is VCU.

Each team being looked at plays in an arena whose capacity would be in the top half of the Atlantic 10. Butler and George Mason play in the oldest buildings, 1927 and 1985 respectively, but they are the two largest. Both have a capacity of 10,000. Butler is beginning fund raising efforts to renovate the Hinkle Fieldhouse. By contrast, Old Dominion plays in an arena completed in the last 10 years with a capacity of roughly 9000 for basketball. VCU has the smallest arena, but it is relatively new.

Market/Share looks at how large the market is they play in and how likely they are to capture it. Indianapolis and Hampton are very comparable markets in 1.5 million residents range. The difference between the two is that Indianapolis sports have a greater impact on the entire Hoosier state than those based in Norfolk. As a result adding Butler would reach more people than Old Dominion's. However, Old Dominion is the only game in town and the the Bulldogs have to compete with top level professional sports as well as Indiana and Notre Dame. Richmond is a smaller market with over a million people, but the A-10 already has a presence there. Having VCU and the Spiders solidifies a pretty good market for A-10 deep in the heart of ACC country. However, they are not venturing into new territory. George Mason is part of the Washington DC metro and near the center of the densely populated and ever expanding Northern Virginia exurbs. There is plenty of population to support the team at a high rate but the motivation to do so is questionable.

George Mason is the best fit of all the favorites geographically with 10 of the 13 remaining A-10 teams within an 8 hours bus ride from Fairfax. Dayton and Xavier are both in the 9 hour range. George Mason becomes a natural fit for George Washington and Richmond could also provide another compliment for Duquesne and the Philly programs. Another team in the Virginia capital finally gives Richmond a true partner in the league and Charlotte another easy trip. Richmond is also close enough to Philly, Pittsburgh and even Olean that a trip to VCU won't be too expensive for half the league. Thanks to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, Old Dominion would be an easy trip to the Philly schools as well as George Washington. It also might make sense to have a team in Hampton Roads since our league headquarters is there. Old Dominion gives Richmond another natural partner. Adding all three of the Virginia schools would really help minimize their travel expenditures. Butler would be another island in the midwest. While they would be close to 3 of the biggest programs in the league, travel would be a great burden to the rest of the league with only 5 teams within a reasonable bus trip.

Broken down, here is how I score each team:

GeographyCurrent BrandUntapped PotentialFaciltiesMarket/Share

If the league had to add just one team, it should be Mason, they fit the league profile the best in terms of geography, have the population around them to improve attendance and local market share and they bring a recognizable brand to the league. VCU is not far away but they can't grow their attendance because their facilities are too small. However, they are nice and new and they do bring the potential to seal off the Richmond market for the A-10. Butler has the brand and the capacity to expand attendance and get more at large bids but they do not fit the geographic profile as well as the other favorites and their stadium is old. Old Dominion is close to Richmond and offers a bigger league to a region that does not have major sports. They are not in geographic footprint like George Mason or VCU, but they are a reasonable bus ride to about half the teams in the league. Should the league take multiple schools from Virginia, they would match the footprint even better.

Then there is the matter of want to. A source with insight into the workings of the Butler athletic department told me while some within the program might welcome a switch to the A-10, the overall cost for secondary sports might make a move prohibitive for some administrators. They also said they did not feel the Horizon was holding the program back with half their NCAA bids coming at large. However, they did concede that in today's climate, anything is possible. This George Mason blogger seems to be firmly behind the move and points to VCU and George Mason both being strong candidates because of their lack of football. I'm also very curious about how Richmond will react to bringing in VCU. Personally, I'd love to see any combination of the 4 and I'd like for it to be geographically balanced. I'd like to add Butler to the west and George Mason to the middle and VCU or Old Dominion to the south.