By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
If you had a dollar for every time you’ve seen or heard that the Atlantic 10 is having a down year, how many schools’ season tickets would you be able to afford?
Three notable upsets have occurred in the league over the last two nights: UMass defeated Dayton by 12 and Fordham won at Davidson by six on Wednesday before visiting La Salle stunned Rhode Island, which was previously unbeaten at home, by 12 on Thursday.
To some, these results are a sign of parity and intrigue in conference play. To others, the Dayton and Rhode Island losses in particular are a troubling sign of how inconsistent even the top teams in the league are this season.
There’s one way to strengthen the A-10 going forward when 2016-17 concludes: get Wichita State, which has been considering leaving the Missouri Valley Conference, to join this offseason.
The first mutual benefit to the Shockers becoming the conference’s 15th full member is March Madness. It’s still January, but Dayton, VCU and Rhode Island are the three A-10 teams currently in Joe Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology, according to his latest posting yesterday. Wichita State (15-3, 5-0 in conference) is the only Missouri Valley Conference team that cracked Lunardi’s field of 68.
WSU wouldn’t breeze through the A-10 like it does in the Missouri Valley, but power conference wins over LSU and Oklahoma, as well as close losses to Louisville and Michigan State would likely put it on the bracket in any situation. The A-10 could be on track for four bids right now, and four teams would put it on par with the Pac-12 and SEC. The critics wouldn’t be lamenting the direction the league was going this year, constantly asserting that it could be a “one-bid league,” which is the college basketball equivalent of getting a 200 on the SAT for just signing your name.
A stronger conference schedule would put less annual pressure on the Shockers, as well. If you don’t gain any wins over RPI Top 50 teams or have some stumbles in January or February, you’re more forgiven if your opponents are La Salle and Richmond instead of Drake and Evansville.
The A-10 is seventh in conference RPI, right where it usually is with the exception of the six-bid year in 2013-14, when it was sixth. The MVC is 12th, which is in the upper half of the NCAA’s 32 conferences but is far from eighth, which it was in 2011-12.
The MVC has 15 league games on national television this season; the A-10 has 87, over two-thirds of its slate. The Shockers would go from big fish in a small pond to one of the main attractions in a big lake. More TV time would help make Wichita State the much more visible brand it is hoping to become.
The biggest obstacles to the move are the other appealing options Wichita State has looked into.
The Big East has earned 11 bids to the big dance in the last two seasons, is behind only the ACC in RPI and has a prime Fox Sports deal. However, it isn’t considering expanding right now and Wichita State doesn’t make geographical sense. The American Athletic Conference would be a great fit, but is also uninterested in adding teams- if it does, it’ll be when the Big 12 inevitably grows and takes some of its elite teams away, making it a far weaker destination. Conference USA and the Mountain West only have appeal if the football program’s revival becomes a reality.
College sports realignment is rarely mutually beneficial for school and conference, but this would be one of those dream scenarios. If Wichita State joins the A-10, it’s the ideal spot for a school looking for a solid basketball conference and increased visibility. It also boosts a conference that has three teams who haven’t made an NCAA Tournament this millennium (Duquesne hasn’t made it since 1977, Fordham since 1992 and Rhode Island since 1999) and five who haven’t won a game in the tourney this millennium (Duquesne 1969, St. Bonaventure 1970, Fordham 1971, UMass 1996, Rhody 1998). Coach Gregg Marshall would give the league a second elite head coach along with Dayton’s Archie Miller (Will Wade is close at VCU).
Now, who’s ready to sign?