Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Scores of columns, blog posts and features have focused on the imminent decline of Big East basketball. The central themes – conference realignment, fooball-motivated injustices, the evils of media rights contracts destroying competitive purity – are for the most part identical. It’s basically the same ideas recreated and refined across different platforms and outlets. And we’ve only reached the tip of the iceberg. Starting in 2013-14, when Syracuse and Pittsburgh (and possibly Notre Dame) head off to the ACC, the defeatist Big East literature will resurface in greater frequency. Like many fellow college basketball scribes, I believe the Big East will lose some of its competitive intrigue once conference realignment commitments fall into place. But I do not abide by the notion that conference realignment is a unilateral force destroying college basketball, or that all realignment-related decisions by definition neglect the happenings on the hardwood and/or affect negative change to the sport’s league structure. Case in point: the Atlantic 10. Thanks to the addition of two emerging programs by way of realignment (Butler and VCU), the A-10, despite also losing Temple and Charlotte, has positioned itself to stake its claim as one of the top three or four basketball leagues in the country.
The positive outlook in A-10 country is not lost on college hoops TV rights negotiators. They proved as much on Tuesday, when broadcast giants ESPN, CBS and NBC committed to the league long-term by securing eight year partnerships, which, according to the conference’s official release, will “give the league unprecedented reach, distribution and marketing, allowing the Atlantic 10 to better serve its fans in its extensive media footprint and to leverage the promotional platforms and marketing assets of these three major media companies.” With the league’s undeniably positive trajectory, this move was an eventuality, a no-brainer proposition for media companies seeking to leverage an untapped source of national viewings gold. There’s little doubt the A-10 has reached power conference-level status, even if it’s not regarded as such. Bolstered by the otherwise gloomy optics of conference realignment, the league is primed to cement its footprint among the sport’s elite. It has a potent mix of thriving programs capable of challenging and stealing NCAA Tournament bids from high-majors; now the broadcast and financial baselines are locked in. The A-10 is, in short, booming. But does it have the staying power to upstage the withering Big East?