Mark me down for “yea” on Atlantic 21

Like it or not, more realignment is coming, and this next round could have a huge impact on VCU…again.

The players: The Big East “Catholic 7” and the Atlantic 10 conference.

ESPN’s Andy Katz reported this morning the seven Catholic non-football schools of the Big East (Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s, Seton Hall, DePaul and Providence) met with conference commissioner Mike Aresco  yesterday to address concerns with the direction of the conference after it’s recent addition of Tulane as a full member in yet another move targeted at strengthening the conferences football brand while greatly watering down the basketball brand that originally built the league, the first major indicator that the Big East hoops powers may indeed split.

The original idea (and one that has been discussed for some time now) was that the C7 would join with several Catholic hoops powers from the A-10 (Xavier, Dayton, Butler, St. Louis, etc) and potentially form a conference of their own.

There’s always a chance that in that scenario, despite being a large public University, VCU might be included as a hoops-only basketball power that would increase the potential TV payout of that league. There’s also the possibility that in that scenario that league opts for the University of Richmond as a similar small private school to capture the Richmond market (to which I say good luck capturing the Richmond market with UofR), which could be bad news Bears for the Rams.

However, Katz later reported that Atlantic 10 officials have expressed interest in adding the seven Big East basketball schools in a preemptive strike should those schools be willing. In other words…”we’re here for you if you need/want us”.

That would make the A-10 a 21-team super conference following Temple and Charlotte’s exits after this season (Temple being the biggest loser in that scenario after recently leaving for the crumbling Big East). Ironically the first super conference, one formed by basketball and not football as we all expected.

This would theoretically increase the TV contract size the A-10 will finish negotiating with ESPN, CBS and NBC, while giving the C7 a stable all-sports conference with a more reasonable geographic footprint.

I am of the opinion that in an era of conference realignment uncertainty this is a best-case scenario for VCU and other East Coast basketball schools. It’s strength in numbers among schools tired of football dictating their program’s fate. A “join or die” moment of sorts for basketball powers on the East Coast, one of which I think Ram fans should support or risk being left behind as far as being a major player in what will become of college hoops.

There are of course folks who would disagree including our good friend and Rams Radio color commentator Mike Litos.

I generally ask Litos his opinion on everything that has to do VCU basketball, including this topic. Here’s what he told me.

I don’t know what you get out of it, other than a lot of teams. You lose a certain competitiveness, sense of rivalry, and the spirit of why a conference is constructed in the first place. Let’s say you play a 16-game conference season. Even if you only played everyone once, there’s four teams you would not play in a certain season. You’re essentially playing a 30-game nonconference slate, and the 12 best teams get to play in the conference tournament for an automatic bid. That doesn’t make sense. What’s more, it windows down the share of NCAA money and the win shares VCU would receive. It doesn’t make sense on that front, either. Nobody has ever given me a logical reason why bigger is better when it comes to conferences.

Personally I think such a league is as logistically impossible as it may sound when you first hear “21-team conference”.

That league would be just five schools larger than the A-10 in it’s current form, and with a bump to a 20-game conference schedule (up four games from our current format) where all teams play each other once, would be just five OOC games less per year than we play currently.

With exempt tournaments such as the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament we competed in this year, I ask you: Could you part with five OOC matchups per year? Would it break your heart to trade this year’s OOC battles against Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson, Longwood, Fairleigh Dickinson and East Tennessee State if it meant you played the likes of Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Marquette and Seton Hall every year?

Only rumor-filled time with high profile speculation will tell what will happen to VCU, the Atlantic 10 and the C7 Big East Schools, but like Bernadette McGlade has proven to be over the past several months in advancing the A-10’s position among conferences, I hope VCU is prepared to take the appropriate steps toward keeping the Rams on an upward trajectory, in whatever conference that may find us. For my money, hopefully in a 21-team Atlantic 10, or what I’m calling the “Bigger East” (or maybe Boardwalk Empire…haven’t decided which I like better).







A two-time graduate of VCU (School of the Arts '07, Center for Sport Leadership '10), Mat is a co-founder of VCU Ram Nation and a longtime fan as the ...