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.
The seven leaving the Big East are Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, Villanova and DePaul.
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."
The A-10's $1 million exit fee doubles if a school fails to give a year's notice, and with the new Big East reportedly planning to start competition in 2013-14, the $2 million likely will apply to Butler and Xavier.
"Philosophically, your exit fees aren't really designed, at least our exit fees, to necessarily keep an institution from leaving," McGlade said. "The exit fees are really for an ability for a conference to be able to make the next step and make a transition. It's tremendously expensive when there's a change in membership … all of a sudden every single thing you brand your league with, your logos, your schools, it all gets (thrown) into the trash can. It's like a company all of a sudden when you have a new addition under your umbrella."
If Butler and Xavier exit, next season's A-10 would consist of 12: VCU, Richmond, Saint Louis, Dayton, Saint Joseph's, Fordham, Massachusetts, Duquesne, LaSalle, St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island and George Washington.
Scratch Dayton and Saint Louis the following season, and the A-10 would look nothing like the conference that was so appealing to VCU. Indeed, VCU and Richmond likely would jump in a second to the new Big East if invited.
"People write about it, people speculate about it," VCU coach Shaka Smart said Wednesday about realignment. "I don't know who really knows what they're talking about. … I hear all the things that everyone else is hearing.
"I think (conference membership is) important to the program you're in. I think it's important to the fans. It obviously dictates in league play who's coming to play. Our fans love the fact that Butler's coming in here Saturday. That wouldn't have happened if we hadn't (left the CAA). … (But) I don't think a conference makes a program."
McGlade declined to comment on which schools she and the conference's university presidents and athletic directors might court as potential new members, though one clearly is George Mason, which last year considered joining VCU in departing the CAA for the A-10.
"A 14-member conference is a big conference, and that was part of our plan, to be a large conference to be strong," McGlade said. "I think we're in a position, there's not a golden number. Is 16 a perfect number for our conference? Is 14? Is 12? I think the most important thing is you get the right institutions in your conference. …
"We've got a great season going. We're a week out from the championship up in New York [at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn], we're having a historically successful year, and I think it's important to not get so distracted by what's going to happen in the future and celebrate these kids and these coaches and the type of success that's going on right now, and then whatever happens in the future, I feel confident that the A-10's going to be in a strong position."
Butler's reported impending move added an odd vibe to Saturday's game, played before a raucous sellout and national TV audience and won convincingly by VCU 84-52.
"Are you going to be glad to leave these guys behind?" The Associated Press' Hank Kurz asked Butler coach Brad Stevens after the most lopsided defeat of his six-year head-coaching career.
"I'm in the A-10," Stevens said. "I'm not commenting on anything else other than I'm in the A-10, it's a heck of a league, it's been an unbelievable experience and we've got to ready for (our next game against) UMass."
VCU and Butler had not met since their 2011 Final Four semifinal, but as new A-10 colleagues, they appeared destined for annual encounters. Alas, that budding rivalry may join the mountainous scrapheap of realignment casualties.
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