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Expansion Apocalypse: Atlantic 10

The addition of Temple University to the Big East will have repercussions elsewhere in the college landscape. The MAC goes from 14 football members in the fall with the addition of Massachusetts, back to 13 members and the Atlantic-10 conference is also down to 14 members after the move. The impact on both conferences means that further moves will occur in response.

The MAC has three options to respond to Temple's move, (1) do nothing and remain at 13 members for the foreseeable future, (2) add another member, likely from CAA football, or (3) convert UMass' membership to a limited term and go back to 12 football members in 2014. So far there hasn't been much indication of what the MAC will ultimately do, but smart money is on the conference at least exploring expansion again, and the most-ready programs near that footprint to make a move-up are likely in the CAA.

As for the Atlantic-10, which has not sponsored football since a CAA power-move caused their football membership to transfer to that conference in 2007, the need for a replacement member isn't as apparent.

At 13 schools with two more remaining in the Philadelphia market, the Atlantic-10 isn't really in a dire need for a Temple replacement. That doesn't mean that expansion wouldn't benefit the league and it won't stop interested schools from contacting the conference.

One such interested school is apparently Butler, the recent two-time national runner-up out of the Horizon League. Administrators of the Indianapolis-based university, have contacted the Atlantic-10 about taking the spot opened by Temple's departure.

"I don't know that there are ongoing discussions or not," University of Richmond athletics director Jim Miller told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. "I know Butler would be the type of school that would appear to enhance the national profile of the A-10."

Butler has had much recent success under head coach Brad Stevens, in addition to the two recent runs to the NCAA Tournament finals, the Bulldogs have a streak of seven straight 20-win seasons. They will be participating in the CBI tournament this season after failing to win the Horizon League tournament.

The Horizon League is normally a conference that gets just 1-bid to the NCAA tournament. Butler has been the only league member to secure an at-large bid to the tournament since 1998, doing so in 2003, 2007 and 2009.

The Atlantic-10 offers heightened competition over Butler's current situation, and with that comes greater access to the NCAA tournament. This season, the A10 sent four schools to the big dance and normally sends at least three. Eight A-10 teams ranked among the top 100 in the NCAA's RPI this season.

For Butler, it would seem like a no-brainer for the school if they were seeking to elevate their basketball program to a higher level. While the A-10 is still a big step below the major conferences in terms of money and exposure, it still leads its mid-major peers. Butler would presumably continue to invest in its program to become a regularly-competitive member of the new conference.

For the Atlantic-10, the loss of Temple is also the loss of one of the conference's most powerful basketball programs. The Owls have been relevant in that conference, and along with Xavier, Dayton and St. Louis, were among the biggest brands the conference can offer.

Without Temple, the basketball power in the A10 conference resides firmly in the midwest, and that is a shaky branch for the conference.

St. Louis is a clear geographic-outlier in the conference and it has long been rumored that the Billikens were uneasy about their place there. SLU have been part of 6 difference conferences since 1937. They are the first member of the A10 that is west of the Mississippi river and in the Central Time Zone.

If the Atlantic-10 is perceived to decrease in quality or exposure, St. Louis might opt to pursue a more geographically-reasonable conference like the Missouri Valley Conference. Worse yet for the A10, Dayton and Xavier could also leave the conference if things headed south.

So, adding Butler would strengthen the western side of the conference and begin to concentrate basketball-only brands in the Atlantic-10 conference.

There could be more than one opening in the A10 conference in the near future, however.

Charlotte's football aspirations

Conference realignment has been driven by football, even in the Atlantic-10 which doesn't sponsor the sport. Not including Temple, seven A10 members play football at either the FCS or FBS level. Temple's departure was driven by the Big East's desire to bring an emergency replacement to their football conference and Temple's desire to have all of their teams compete in the same conference

With the MAC situation becoming unsteady, UMass could be due to make football-centric conference move out of the Atlantic-10, but Charlotte might move next. According to, Charlotte has been in contact with the Sun Belt conference and the MWC/C-USA Alliance about moving their upstart football team to FBS.

Charlotte is starting an FCS program in the 2013 season but have not yet found a conference to join. The school's board had initially made statements when voting the program into existence, about competing at the bowl subdivision-level.

CBS reports that Charlotte is among the "leading candidates" to join the Sun Belt, along with the University of Texas-San Antonio. Georgia State may also have interest in the Sun Belt conference, which was the "best fit" for their program according to a recently-completed FBS feasibility study. Meanwhile, three current Sun Belt members, Florida Atlantic, Florida International and North Texas have interest in moving to the MWC/C-USA alliance.

In fact, every member of the WAC conference that fields a football team has spoken to either MWC or C-USA officials about their new league, according to CBS.

If Charlotte pulls the trigger on a move to an FBS conference, it would leave the Atlantic-10 short of yet-another member. Without adding anyone, they could be down to 12 members in short-order.

That could mean that the A10 will be looking for more than one replacement. If they are smart, they might add more in anticipation of future conference movement by football-playing members.

CYO League is alive and well

With Butler and other notable mid-major basketball brands on-board, the Atlantic-10 is starting to look more and more like the CYO League concept that many have proposed that the Big East's non-football membership should become. Such additions could put the A10 in a position of power, should the Big East's basketball schools ever choose to split away from the conference they founded.

That is especially true if the decision to move on weren't unanimous. DePaul, Providence and Seton Hall, for example, wouldn't make for much of a conference on their own. Combined with Xavier, Dayton, St. Louis and others, they would at least have the brand names to compete for a higher level of exposure.

The Big East split scenario seems less likely to happen as an affirmative move of the non-football side of the conference, however. The money gained through the association is too great for the member schools (and their massive basketball budgets) to walk away from.

If the Big East football schools were to move for a schism, however, the basketball schools might be better served applying for Atlantic-10 membership over forming a new conference and trying to lure most of the A10 schools into it. The television money wouldn't likely be much different for a school like Xavier, and the Atlantic-10 would have an automatic NCAA tournament bid, whereas a new league might not.

The Big East is still moving ahead toward a new television deal and appears to have strengthened its membership going forward.

Not just the mid-majors

The Big 12 conference is reportedly nearing the completion of a lucrative extension on their first tier television rights deal with ESPN. The terms of the extension would raise the conference revenue distributions to approximately $20 million per school, per year through 2025 — a raise of about $5 million per year for each athletics department.

The raise for a school like West Virginia would be over 8 figures from their current Big East revenue distribution.

The Big 12 members will end up on par with the Pac-12 members under the landmark rights deal negotiated by that conference last summer.

The new revenue may have an impact on future Big 12 expansion. Would the conference gain much, or anything, by adding additional members? At $20 million per school annually already, how much more would television partners be willing to pay out to the conference for a conference championship game?

Louisville is among the prime candidates for the Big 12 if they do choose to expand back to 12 members. The Big 12 could also take Cincinnati in an expansion move, or go west to woo BYU. It is unlikely that any expansion decision will be reached until a permanent commissioner is hired to replace Chuck Neinas, of course.

Key to the discussion of expansion is whether the Big 12's new television deal has any provisions that contemplate expansion. Can the amount be renegotiated like the SEC and ACC deals? Did ESPN wise up and limit the amounts they can gain by adding members before the new deal expires? Does the contract contemplate and value a championship game?

These questions may still be under discussion between Big 12 and ESPN officials, but the answers will have an impact on the future of both the Big 12 and the Big East conferences, among others. If the lucrative new deal ends the expansion threat against the Big East, things should settle down for at least a little while.

Unless Notre Dame decides to join a football conference, which could happen if the next BCS arrangement changes to a system that doesn't give the independent Irish the special dispensation they've become accustomed to. Irish alums would find it a very bitter pill to know that their school's chances of playing in a big postseason game were dramatically diminished, and boosters could eventually change position on conference membership. Until then, Notre Dame will remain a loyal member of the Big East conference.