Why The Atlantic 10 and Butler Both Benefit From Bulldogs’ AdditionPosted by EJacoby on May 2nd, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
In recent years, the Atlantic 10 Conference has established itself as perhaps the strongest non-BCS league in college basketball. It’s not part of the power six, yet the A-10 is too good to put in the “mid-major” category. The conference sent four teams to the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and three teams to the Big Dance in each of the four years prior. With Tuesday’s news that Butler is heading to the Atlantic 10 for all sports beginning in the 2013-14 season, there’s reason to believe that the A-10 should remain one of the stronger college basketball leagues in the nation. Butler is a great replacement for Temple (departing in 2013), and the move also makes plenty of sense for the Bulldogs. After tremendous success in the Horizon League and historic prominence as a mid-major in back-to-back national title games in 2010 and 2011, it’s time for Brad Stevens and Butler to challenge itself in a stronger league.
Butler’s feat of back-to-back title game appearances will certainly hold as one of the biggest college basketball stories of this decade, but coach Stevens doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by those two seasons. Stevens could have had nearly any job opening he wanted after leading Butler to an 89-15 record in his first three seasons, but the coach was content with the ‘Butler Way,’ signing a long extension that will keep him in Indy through the 2021-22 season. Despite the team’s nationally recognized success, it’s still not easy to draw top recruits to play in the Horizon League. Butler could not pass up on this opportunity to join the stable and competitive A-10 starting in the fall of 2013, when the Bulldogs will ratchet up their schedule strength by taking on the likes of Xavier, Massachusetts, Saint Louis, St. Bonaventure, La Salle, and St. Joseph’s in conference play. Already armed with one of the top names in coaching and a talented young roster, Butler now has the benefit of added exposure and competition to offer to potential recruits.
As far as the Atlantic 10 is concerned, there couldn’t have been a better fit for the conference. Butler joins the likes of Saint Louis, Dayton, and Xavier as a Midwestern school in the league, and the Bulldogs should fit right in with the competition level as well. Xavier has been to the Sweet Sixteen in four of the past five seasons, Rhode Island, St. Joe’s, and Xavier have all been in the Elite Eight since 1998, and nearly half of the league’s teams have appeared in a Final Four at some time or another. Now at 14 teams for the 2013-14 season, the question now becomes whether the conference seeks to add two more schools to reach a grand total of 16. Rumors continue to circle about the possibility of adding VCU and George Mason, two more high-profile mid-majors from the CAA that have recently made a Final Four.
Regardless of where the Atlantic 10 goes from here, we are sure that the league is in good hands now that Butler is in the fold. Conference realignment remains a constant story across college sports, but the landscape of college basketball doesn’t look to be changing as drastically as fans may have expected. The possibility of NCAA sports trending towards four “superconferences” must be in the back of the minds of many fans, but conferences like the A-10 and Big East have weathered the storm and will be loaded with strong rosters for 2013 and beyond. It’s unfortunate that the Horizon League loses its top draw in Butler, but that conference will remain a mid-major league whose teams’ ultimate goal is to win an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Butler, however, has bigger aspirations and has a greater chance of being permanently successful as part of the A-10. Now all we can do is wait and see how the Bulldogs will transition into their new conference after next season.