Bernadette McGlade’s reign as commissioner of the Atlantic 10 has been marred by significant conference realignment and porous NCAA tournament performances.
The conference failed to capitalize on the momentum from 2022 when it sent both Richmond and Davidson to the NCAA tournament, which happened to be the first time the conference had a multi-team bid since 2019 (2021 is excluded because VCU never actually played their tournament game).
In all of my years of going to Fordham games and following this conference, there has never been a season that has been college basketball’s Hannibal Lector more than the 2022-23 Atlantic 10 Men’s basketball season.
The conference also played its worst schedule, 0.37 SOS rating, since 2019. If you look on the conference’s college basketball reference page you’ll see that this season’s strength of schedule for the conference was the eighth worst ever.
This isn’t to say McGlade is incompetent by any means, it is just unfortunate because some of it was out of her control.
Realignment is flying around as of late from multiple conferences: San Diego State handed in their letter to the Mountain West that they were leaving but are having trouble finding a new home. The rumors of UConn departing the Big East AGAIN come following their pointless move to the American. The SEC, Big 10, and Big 12 are getting ready for significant additions/subtractions in 2023 and 2024 while the American is welcoming a host of new teams.
The A10 should strike while the iron is hot for the conference to take advantage of realignment. Let’s break it all down and play the hypothetical game.
The Current Rendition
Dayton, VCU, and Saint Louis are the golden standard right now of how to build a contending A10 team, even if Dayton doesn’t have the conference tournament hardware to show for it. Saint Bonaventure, Richmond, and Davidson have had great years- this past year they took a year off due to significant coaching changes or significant roster turnover.
Everyone else has been in weird purgatory places: Saint Joseph’s has legitimate talent but it is still unclear if Billy Lange is the right guy post-Phil Martelli. George Washington had strong runs in the 1990s, 2000s, and the 2010s with Mike Lonergan until his forced resignation amid scandal. Chris Caputo went 10-8 in the conference in year one as the head coach. He still has some building to do, but proven he can pull the Revolutionaries out of this funk.
Fordham would’ve been a candidate to get booted years ago, but since hiring Ed Kull as athletic director things have been trending upward. Last year came out of leftfield with Keith Urgo running the show and a new president who all create foresight. They’re also amid significant campus upgrades that will beef up athletic facilities.
Duquesne hasn’t won the conference since 1977 when it was the East Coast Basketball League. Outside of Mike Rice capturing back-to-back regular season titles, the Dukes have had a rough run despite pouring tons of resources into basketball.
George Mason was climbing with Kim English until the Providence job opened after Ed Cooley left for Georgetown, resulting in the Friars whisking away “Mindset” culture. UMass and Rhode Island have been extremely underwhelming programs ever since Dan Hurley and John Calipari left their respective teams. La Salle had one good year in 2013, but that is all they’ve done since joining the conference.
Things have been all over the place: the 18-game league schedule has hurt OOC scheduling, plus losing mainstay programs have not bettered the national image. With realignment picking up again, we need to address the significant moves happening in the landscape of college basketball.
Who is going where?
Let’s start with the big fish: 2023 is experiencing shifts in the power balance of college basketball amongst the Big 12 and the American. Here’s who is going where:
When Texas and Oklahoma announced they were leaving for the SEC in 2024, Brett Yormark all but stripped the American clean: Adding Cincinnati, UCF, and the conference’s headliner of Houston. They also added BYU to create a mega version of this conference for one season until the other two leave.
That leaves the American with Memphis as the headliner and Wichita State as the other strong hoops program, and I’m not so sure Memphis will be there for much longer given the bubbling of Memphis looking to go elsewhere.
Adding FAU is a nice pickup following their final-four appearance. North Texas won the NIT, Charlotte has a history of success in Conference USA, and UAB has had great success with Andy Kennedy. UTSA is a puzzling add but four quality teams will join from Conference USA regardless.
Conference USA will replenish with Jacksonville State, Liberty, Sam Houston, and New Mexico State. It will be interesting to see how they handle New Mexico State following the hazing scandal.
2024 will see UCLA and USC leaving the Pac-12 for the Big 10, and Kennesaw State will fortify Conference USA basketball.
Don’t expect any significant movement for now from anywhere else. San Diego State is scurrying to find a new home that likely resides in either the Big 12 or WCC since the Pac 12 is unlikely to take them (educated guess). But that doesn’t mean realignment and poaching won’t happen down the road.
So where does that leave the Atlantic 10?
The Big East will look to expand and retool if UConn leaves again. Dayton has been operating at a Big East level for years, it wouldn’t shock anyone if they pack it up for a cheap Big East TV deal. They have the facilities, funding, talent, and the lack of football to jump.
UMass realignment rumors have picked up steam online for some time after football left the MAC and failed to join Conference USA, they could be in play to depart.
So let’s assume those two are out in this hypothetical. Both are the most likely to leave if realignment were to happen today. Commissioner McGlade has also expressed her desire to add a 16th team, and I’m sure that she’ll fight to keep VCU in the conference. With two major programs gone, it’s time to fill shoes!
Temple should be the number one priority for the A10 if they are looking at realignment. When they left in 2013, the gurus at a basketball-centric school with two basketball hall-of-fame coaches and NBA pedigree decided to commit to their non-existent football program.
From 1991-2004, the Owls were a product of Big East football with little success. The conference voted to expel them due to a lack of commitment financially in 2002. At the same time, John Chaney was in multiple elite eights, sending players to the NBA as lottery picks or close to it. When the legend stepped down in 2006, Fran Dunphy kept their dominance going.
Moving to the American hit basketball: the administration forced the retirement of Fran Dunphy in 2019 despite his desire to continue coaching. They made two appearances in March Madness, both of which were early exits, but haven’t done much winning. The American has catered to southern schools with football as a priority and a confused school in Philadelphia.
Tons of resources in football that, besides a few good years with Matt Rhule, have yet to be working at all. Basketball just turned over to Adam Fisher after a disappointing run with Aaron McKie, and the university’s president was forced to resign due to several issues. Temple’s meltdown has tarnished its national image as an institution and an athletics program.
Bringing the Owls back would be a mutually beneficial move: the A10 get their headliner back, plus help with scheduling a strong OOC for a chance at multiple at-large A10 bids. Temple would become the most coveted job not just in the A10, but the best non-power six gig on the eastern seaboard.
If they want to keep football? Pull a Fordham and become an associate member of the Patriot League or become Georgetown and limit the number of scholarships you hand out.
Pyles mentioned Murray State in the last article on this website regarding realignment, but I’ll advocate for the Racers. Murray State is a perfect fit for the A10.
They’ve captured 18 OVC conference tournament titles and produced two all-Americans in Ja Morant and Isaiah Canaan, plus just far enough west to help build a tremendous rivalry with Saint Louis while simultaneously adding a market in Kentucky for the A10.
Murray State’s program is designed much like VCU: a stepping stone for luminary coaches looking to get to the next level. Mick Cronin, Steve Prohm, Mark Gottfried, Ron Greene, and Matt McMahon spent between three and seven seasons each in Murray, built up the program, and moved on to better jobs.
Football also competes in the FCS which is ideal for a move to the Atlantic 10 since the conference doesn’t sponsor football They’ve had some success on the gridiron but have stayed committed to basketball, so this move for the A10 would be a massive plus.
While constant coaching turnover historically is negative, some programs have found major success because they hire the right guy in a program where they can adjust quickly and keep the momentum. The days of Bob McKillop, Rick Byrd, and Phil Martelli are long gone in mid-majors.
Murray State as an Atlantic 10 program would benefit mightily from power six guys dropping down via the portal to go along with their already strong recruiting. Murray State would race quickly atop the conference, and given they are closer to the east coast than Saint Louis geography isn’t a major issue.
If the conference wants to have a New Jersey team, Monmouth would be the only realistic option for the 16th A10 team: Seton Hall and Rutgers are in much better conferences, I highly doubt Princeton leaves the Ivy League, and Rider doesn’t have any real success to join the Atlantic 10. Nonetheless, a school in the heart of the Jersey Shore seems like a fun idea for the conference.
Their recent move to the CAA was obviously football oriented, but both sports struggled in year one: football went 5-6 while basketball won seven games. This season was a hyperbole for basketball considering they’ve had legitimate success when they were a MAAC team with three regular season titles.
2022 saw Shavar Reynolds come aboard for King Rice, only emphasizing the concept they can benefit as an A10 school with power six leftovers. The A10 has a reputation for being a silver lining of not too low of a level or too high for transfers. Monmouth could thrive in that type of environment.
A learning curve could apply for Monmouth should this move ever materialize. Loyola-Chicago came aboard last season and struggled mightily in year one. Drew Valentine was aggressive in the transfer portal this summer acquiring legitimate Atlantic 10 talent.
King Rice has a good track record in all aspects of college coaching, and I’m sure Monmouth would keep him around, but the Hawks could struggle early on with adjusting instantly like George Mason did when they joined. It would take some time to get to an A10-level team, no doubt, but Rice has shown he is a good coach and has demonstrated his ability to use the transfer portal well.
In my new A10, here is what our alignment would look like:
Scheduling must change if this is to work. Playing 18 in-conference games cripples the chances of securing multiple at-large bids for the conference. If the A10 wants to be recognized as the best non-power six again, going back to the 16 in-conference games is the way to allow teams to schedule games that can get them at-large bids.
That isn’t to say it’s entirely on the A10- the partnership with the Mountain West ended post-COVID. Other schools refuse to play any of the teams that the A10 has to offer especially as of late because most Atlantic 10 teams have become RPI poison, especially in the eyes of big programs.
If the commissioner realigns the league and makes these changes, the model must be followed to where the conference was over a decade ago: a 16-game in-conference schedule to give leeway for strong OOC scheduling. Temple and VCU would have to lead in scheduling strong OOC games.
Per program tradition, Temple used to always be within the top 90 in the strength of schedule rating. VCU has built fairly strong schedules post-Shaka Smart working within the parameters of the current A10. Assuming they perform well, this should have a trickle-down effect for the entire conference.
It could take a year or two, but adding Monmouth, Murray State, and Temple, plus returning to a 16-game league schedule re-opens doors the conference once had. Again, learning curves will apply here as teams join and adjust but this could have a positive effect and solve a number of problems the conference has had for some time.