Conference Realignplosion: How even the worst case for the A-10 probably won't be so bad.

By Steve DiMiceli

A number of A-10 fans and writers speculated that today would eventually come. I didn't think it would, at least not for a couple of years, but the Big East football/basketball break up is happening and it's happening fast. Since about 10 o'clock this morning, my twitter feed has pretty much looked like this:

RT "@ <national media type> BREAKING: C7 plan to target <A10 member>, <A10 member>, and <A10 member> as top candidates to join  <number of members) league "

Not one was the same and all were based on speculation. 

As I'm typing this, reports already suggest Xavier and Butler are planning to make the switch. Who knows what's coming next? Do they go to 10 or 12 or 14 or nationwide mega conference? What other names are going to be involved? What will be left of the A-10? Will there be an A-10 left? 

I can't answer any of those questions except the last. At the end of the day, I firmly believe the A-10 will stay standing.

In a worst case scenario, I imagine the A-10 loses 6 teams, 4 to the new league (Xavier, Butler, Dayton, and VCU or Richmond), St Louis (to the new league or MVC) and UMass to a football league. I believe they will shy away from duplicating markets where they can avoid it. That leaves our Dukes, URI, Fordham, Lasalle, St Joe's, GW, Bona, and the spurned Richmond school as the remnants of the A-10. Some think that if the massive raid happens that the A-10 will splinter with some teams ending up in the CAA or the Horizon and the rest simply scattered to the winds. This stance doesn't make financial or competitive sense for any of the remaining A-10 members.

I give a lot of credit to the Catholic 7. I don't think splitting from the Big East was a move just about money but money is a big part of what will keep the A-10 together. The league has two things going for it. As far as I can tell, the TV contract isn't going anywhere. Assuming the league is smaller, the per team pay out gets larger and every team gets more exposures. On top of that, we retain all of those NCAA Tournament units, 30 to be exact and their  $6.6 million payout this year. That number will decrease over the next 6 years, but the TV contract will remain the same unless there is some kind of nuclear clause. Even then, the remaining A-10 teams are still strong enough to negotiate a contract bigger than say the CAA or Horizon. 

Those remaining 8 teams are also better than anything you'll find in another lesser mid major conference. In general the remaining A-10 schools have all been relatively strong. Most are making significant pushes in their athletic departments to get better. If you think Fordham is an RPI killer, the alternatives of the Horizon and CAA have multiple RPI bombs every year. Below is a chart of the remaining A-10, Horizon, and Colonial schools ranked by their average RPI over the past 5 years:

Richmond 88.4 Mason 75.4 Cleve St 81.8
Duquesne 107 Drexel 131.4 Wright St 121.4
URI 107.8 Northeastern 137.6 Wisc GB 129.2
St Joes's 114.4 UNCW 166.4 Wisc Mil 132
LaSalle 141 Delaware 187.8 Valpo 142.6
Bona 163.2 W + M 189.2 Detroit 201
GW 173.8 JMU 197.8 Loyola 231
Fordham 252.4 Hofstra 215.8 Ill Chi 237.4

Towson 263.2 YSU 241.2


I took the most pessimistic route and left VCU out of the A-10. While the average RPI is not a lot better for the A-10, again, I see more teams on the rise. I also think brands like Richmond, Rhode Island and St Joe's are stronger than the top three in any other league. The remaining A-10 coaching staffs are all strong relative to those in the CAA and Horizon. I would take my chances with Chris Mooney, Jim Ferry, Dan Hurley, Phil Martelli, John Gianini, Mark Schmidt, Mike Lonergan and Tom Pecora over the likes of A-10 flameout Bruiser Flint, Phil Hewitt, and Bryce Drew. At the moment, the conferences would be fairly even but I don't think it stays that way for long. One or two A-10 programs will rise to fill the void left by departed big shots. If I had to choose what conference I'd want to be in from left to right above, I'm going left.

Even in the worst case scenario, I think the Horizon and Colonial should be worried about getting poached, not the other way around based on finances and future competitive advantages. Between the TV deal and the NCAA tournament money, each A-10 team's league share would be over a million a year for at least the next two years assuming a 10 teams league. Of course that would taper off slowly as the tournament units expire to $600-$700 K when the TV contract runs out. I think I can assume a 10 team league because the money from TV and tournament revenue would double what any other mid major conference is receiving for their league before they even sell a ticket. Keep in mind that as the A-10 NCAA revenue decreases so will the CAA's and the Horizon's as I don't see anyone from those leagues making a trip to the Final Four again anytime soon. Looking at the above chart, it's once again the group on the left that looks like it could achieve a higher number of NCAA tournament units long run. At the end of the day, the A-10 will find two teams they can pick off. 

Conference realignment is not the end of the A-10 and being left out of a mega basketball conference wouldn't be the worst thing that happened to Duquesne. We're not ready for the big leagues and missing out might be more opportunity than set back. The Dukes are in a pretty strong position to fill a power vacuum in a thinned out A-10. Sure it will hurt recruiting, but I think Ferry can find the talent we need to compete in our conference a lot easier with the top chopped off. Suddenly, we're one of the steadier, most stable teams in a league that hasn't quite broken through yet. With the increased cash flow over the next few seasons and the decreased competition, the athletic department could commit the same or even more to a program with increased spending more likely to have an impact. Strangely, I think Duquesne could emerge from this mess a winner if they keep up their commitment It will take some time to rebuild the A-10 but I firmly believe Duquesne will be one of the programs leading the charge.

The A-10 didn't stay down long after it lost Rutgers and WVU in 1995 and I don't think it will now either. The league was aggressive then and probably over expanded to 12 teams taking on a couple of tweener programs like Fordham and Lasalle based on a couple of good seasons. I hope Bernie decides to stay small for now and not make the same mistake twice. In my opinion limiting membership concentrates the league cash payments, the tv exposures and makes it a more attractive to prospective members and will help the league recover faster. I would not push back to 14 teams for the sake of getting to 14 teams. That can and should come in due time when the league is consistently a two and three bid league again. I would like to note again that this is a worst case scenario. I could see UMass sticking around for a while because they sure as hell aren't going to get a million plus dollars per year from the MAC for basketball. Same goes for St Louis and the Missouri Valley as I think the extra money might make it worth their while to stay even if they end up on a bigger island than the one they were on before. If the new Big East only goes to 10 and picks Creighton, I think the A-10 will pretty much be the same as it was in 2006. If they go 12 and pass on Creighton, the worst case scenario could really happen. Of course, even that won't be so bad. 

EDIT: I forgot to include Charleston in the CAA chart. Their average RPI is 116.