Time for Atlantic 10's next bold move

Time for Atlantic 10's next bold move
December 18, 2012, 11:15 am
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Just like the other conference changing maneuvers before it, the stunning announcement about the seven basketball-only schools leaving the Big East has created its own butterfly effect. In this case, those immediately impacted by the news of a basketball-centric conference forming - beyond the seven - are most definitely the Big East football schools left behind and perhaps the soon-to-be raided Atlantic 10.

One idea floated this past weekend involves all or parts of these two sides joining forces. Your mileage may vary on this plan, but considering all the hysteria and rubbernecking going on right now in the wake of the Big East's civil war, who knows what the future holds.

The Atlantic 10 conference does not do football, yet oddly could become a safe harbor for those Big East's football schools left in the wake of another round of departures. Depending on how the situations on both ends develops in the coming days, weeks and months, a potential marriage could be a long-term fix or more likely one of short-term convenience.

Led by Georgetown, the Big East's seven hoops-only schools announced on Saturday plans to leave the conference. More specifically, they will leave the remaining football programs including Connecticut and Cincinnati to form a basketball-centric entity, one that will grow beyond the seven current members.

The Big East football group includes a mix of all-sports and gridiron-only programs. Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, Temple are the current schools with football and basketball. Memphis, Houston, SMU, Central Florida join that faction starting next season, Tulane for the 2014-15 season. Boise State, San Diego State, East Carolina and Navy connect as football-only members over the next three seasons.

While this group has some basketball winners, there are not enough to overcome the unwieldy geographic hodgepodge. Maybe the plan is taking the bigger is best approach to extremes and forming two divisions, one East and one West. The Sporting News suggested the possibility of forming of an entirely new league with members from the Big East and the Mountain West Conference.

Then again, it's hard to fathom the Big East brand without the seven-basketball schools plus Syracuse, Pittsburgh and others being a desirable destination others feel compelled to join.

Sure, there is positive talk about the Big East football faction staying together. Other than signed contracts that in the future could be little more than pieces of paper, there is little in the way of ties that bind each other together other than being collectively jilted.

So what does any of this have to do with the Atlantic 10?

For starters, multiple Atlantic 10 schools, including Xavier, Butler, St. Louis, Dayton and VCU are among the basketball-only programs likely interested in or targeted by the new hoops-led enterprise. Other schools including Creighton and Gonzaga could be involved, but unless the new basketball-league expands to 12 teams, schools east of the Mississippi River figure to be most desirable.

Next, scrambling schools Connecticut and Cincinnati geographically are location-compatible to the Northeast-Midwestern based Atlantic 10 conference. That obviously applies to Temple, which is currently still in the Atlantic 10, but is leaving at the end of this season along with Charlotte, dropping the Atlantic 10 from 16 to 14 teams starting in 2013-14. Recent Final Four participants Butler and VCU joined the A10 this season.

In conversations with a source familiar with the Atlantic 10's interests, Memphis would be another likely target despite its outlier location because of its strong basketball tradition.

From there, the thinking is as follows: Those four specific Big East schools leave there football programs in the Big East or elsewhere while moving the additional sports including basketball to the Atlantic 10.

The basketball-seven moved in part because of the dominance football had over their lives, even though this had been the case for years. The difference now is that instead of those gridiron schools being neighboring besties like Syracuse and Pittsburgh, they were soon going to be far-flung programs like SMU and Tulane.

Connecticut and Cincinnati could soon face this exact dilemma should grand plans of a cross-country, two-division conference not pan out or a long-awaited invitation from the ACC get lost in the mail. However, most expect additional changes to the major power conference lineup, though the when and where remain unclear, so perhaps Connecticut and Cincinnati are best served waiting for the next conference shoe to drop.

Rather than staying with geographical undesirable schools that for the most part do not offer either a football or a basketball Q-rating boost, perhaps UConn and Cincinnati (along with Temple and Memphis) hitch a ride with the Atlantic 10.

So why would the Atlantic 10 agree to take on schools knowing they could leave at any minute? Well, for starters, the A10 is already in that scenario should Butler or VCU take off. Regardless, the conference's basketball identity would receive a major boost by adding three-time NCAA champion Connecticut plus the formidable trio of Cincinnati, Memphis and Temple.

Before this weekend's announcement of the seven-basketball programs intended group exit, reports surfaced about the Atlantic 10's willingness to include those schools should they become available.

Beyond this season, the Atlantic 10's current geographic makeup extends south to Richmond, west to St. Louis and includes major Northeastern media markets, specifically New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., home of member George Washington University.

The Newark Star-Ledger reported a similar though opposite scenario; the invited Big East football schools would park their respective football programs elsewhere and remain in the Big East for all other sports.

Putting those strong basketball programs with the Georgetown's and Villanova's makes sense for the group now leaving the Big East. The plan however requires Connecticut officials getting over any residual scorned feelings after having been left behind by the basketball-seven, which includes fellow founding members Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence.

We'll see about that. We'll see about any of this.