Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade smiled wryly when asked Saturday if someone might declare a cease-fire from college sports’ relentless conference realignment raids.
“If there is a call,” she said, “I haven't gotten the memo yet.”
McGlade huddled with five reporters prior to Saturday’s marquee A-10 basketball game between visiting Butler and VCU, amid reports that at least two and as many as four league schools soon will announce their intention to join the new Big East.
The so-called Catholic 7 — basketball-centric, faith-based schools splitting from the old Big East — are, according to ESPN, set to add the A-10’s Butler and Xavier as early as Wednesday, with perhaps Dayton, Saint Louis and the Missouri Valley’s Creighton to follow.
Within the last year, the A-10 added basketball powers Butler (from the Horizon League) and VCU (from the Colonial Athletic Association), in part to counter the future, football-driven exits of Temple to the Big East and Charlotte to Conference USA. So McGlade is hardly naïve about realignment.
“The last three years,” she said, “like every other commissioner in Division I -- I think 27 conferences have been affected by realignment – it’s almost on a daily basis we come in and we have to really make sure we’re paying attention to our membership and making sure our membership is solid.
“If there are going to be realignment impacts that would affect the league, then we have to be ready to make the next-best decision. That’s my job, to make sure that the A-10 stays as strong as possible. I feel like it’s been my daily work for the last 28 months, to be honest with you.”
Though McGlade said she's received neither formal nor informal notice from Butler or Xavier, that work shows no signs of slowing.
Butler’s newcomer status notwithstanding, losing the Bulldogs, a Final Four program in 2010 and ’11 and top 25 squad much of this season, would hurt. But not as much as Xavier, a conference staple since 1995.
The Musketeers have earned 11 NCAA tournament bids in the last 12 years, reaching the regional semifinals five times and regional finals twice. Dayton enjoys rabid fan support and boasts Final-Four pedigree from the late 1960s, while Saint Louis has been the A-10’s best team this season.
“We’ve really tried strategically to stay focused on being a basketball-centric league,” said McGlade, who in 2009 moved the A-10’s office from Philadelphia to Newport News. “I feel like we’ve done that with our current membership. We knew when we had shifting members with Temple and Charlotte a year ago, and consequently with Butler and VCU joining, we wanted to establish ourselves as the best basketball conference in the country.”
With 10 teams in the top 100 of the Rating Percentage Index – only the Big East has as many – the A-10, indeed, is having a breakout year. But as soon as the Catholic 7 announced their intentions in mid-December, McGlade knew her league would be targeted.
“When they made the official announcement that they were going to launch and start a brand-new Division I conference, I think every commissioner in the country does the math and says they have seven, so they’re going to have to have some additional Division I schools. So you start from there. …
“I believe schools know that our institutions are very appealing to any conference in the country that wants schools that are committed to basketball and making it a high-level commitment from resources and fan support and recruiting.”
The A-10 unveiled in October new, eight-year television contracts with ESPN, NBC Sports Group and the CBS Sports Network that offered the conference unprecedented exposure. Rights fees were not disclosed, but they easily trumped previous A-10 deals, McGlade said.
But according to ESPN, Fox Sports is set to announce Wednesday a partnership with the Catholic 7, Butler and Xavier that will be worth at least $3 million annually to each school. That’s petty cash in major college football circles, but for basketball, it’s hitting the Power Ball.
“As we know and you hear,” McGlade said, “you have a Fox media company that is supposedly going to put the type of money behind a brand-new Division I league, that’s a hard thing to combat.”
If McGlade is resigned to losing schools, she hid it well.
“I think they understand and appreciate the stability they have in the A-10,” McGlade said of her schools. “I think they will weigh their options, and I hope and I have confidence they will weigh them very closely.”