May 9, 2013
Last year, Davidson declined an invitation to join the Colonial Athletic Association. This week, the Wildcats accepted membership in the Atlantic 10.
Ah, the power of television and men's basketball.
Both the Richmond-based CAA and Newport News-headquartered A-10 represented upgrades from the Southern Conference, a league Davidson joined in 1936. But the A-10 offers greater television exposure and revenue, and a better brand of basketball, a sport in which the Wildcats have long excelled.
"As it turned out, our choice to wait was the right one," Davidson athletic director Jim Murphy said in a media teleconference Wednesday.
The Wildcats are an equally sage choice for the A-10.
First, it keeps the conference in the Charlotte, N.C., market. A member since 2005, Charlotte is leaving the A-10 for Conference USA and the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Second, and most important, Davidson meshes with the A-10's goal of being the nation's best basketball-centric conference — a new Big East that includes Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Creighton and A-10 deserters Xavier and Butler figures to bump the A-10 from that perch.
The Wildcats have played in 12 NCAA tournaments, five of the last eight, and are expertly coached by Bob McKillop. Thanks to Steph Curry, they upset Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin en route to the 2008 Midwest Regional final, where they lost to eventual national champion Kansas by two points.
Less relevant, but cool nonetheless, Davidson reached the East Regional final in 1968 and '69, falling to North Carolina by a combined six points. The Wildcats coach was Lefty Driesell, his top assistant Terry Holland.
Davidson joins the A-10 in 2014-15 — scheduling logistics precluded an immediate move, Murphy said — and combines with 2013-14 newcomer George Mason to soften the blow of losing Xavier, Butler, Temple and Charlotte.
That's where A-10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade and the conference's presidents have excelled: Even as schools have exited for various reasons, they have added the likes of VCU, Mason, Davidson and, albeit for a cup of coffee, Butler.
Five A-10 teams — Saint Louis, VCU, Temple, LaSalle and Butler — made the NCAA tournament this past season, and all advanced, LaSalle to the Sweet 16. That gives the conference 32 at-large bids in the last 16 years.
For all its heritage — the league was formed in 1921 and used to include many current ACC and Southeastern Conference members — the Southern has never received an at-large bid.
"The excitement lies in the challenge," Murphy said. "We really feel like our basketball program can compete at any level. I think we've proven that."
The A-10's recent deals with ESPN, the NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network also trump the Southern, as well as the CAA.
Indeed, Davidson president Carol Quillen called those partnerships "an enormous opportunity to enhance our visibility and extend our reach on a national and even international level."
The Southern Conference, meanwhile, is hunting reinforcements in the wake of departures by Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, the College of Charleston and now Davidson. Among the candidates: the Big South's VMI, a Southern stalwart from 1924-2003.
Long story short: While the ACC's recent grant of rights appears to have curbed realignment at Division I's highest levels, fault lines remain elsewhere.
"We'll be 14 (members) in 2014," McGlade said, anticipating Davidson's arrival.
But with the Big East still unsettled and perhaps trolling for some combination of Saint Louis, Dayton, Richmond and VCU, I asked McGlade how confident she is with that statement.
"Obviously there's nothing for sure right now," she said. "I'm well aware of that. … To the best of my knowledge, we'll be 14 in 2014. If the landscape begins to settle down, that would be a great thing. If it doesn't, we'll just be ready for whatever starts to occur."
George Washington's Steven Knapp, chairman of the A-10's council of presidents, echoed McGlade.
"You really can't predict the future, but I think right now we're very happy with the community we've built," he said of his fellow CEOs. "This morning we had a conversation with a number of the presidents about this … press conference, and we were practically high-fiving through the telephone."
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