Two weeks after fellow mid-major darling Butler announced their move to Atlantic 10, Shaka Smart and Virginia Commonwealth one-up Bulldogs by joining A-10 effective this July 1st. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)
If you still needed proof that the Atlantic 10 was positioning themselves to join the major conference party, today served as the icing on the cake.
With the current state of the Colonial Athletic Association in limbo, reigning champion Virginia Commonwealth decided to make the jump to the A-10 effective July 1st of this year. VCU, who became a household name with their Cinderella run to the 2011 Final Four, becomes the fifteenth program in the Atlantic 10, a once-regional league whose territory now stretches into the Midwest thanks to Saint Louis, Xavier and Dayton among others.
"VCU believes the A-10 represents the best opportunity to meet our long-term aspirations for national academic and athletic achievement," said university president Michael Rao. "As a nationally competitive Division I athletics program, it is critical that VCU seizes the opportunity to further elevate its athletics as it raises its overall academic profile as a national research university."
The decision by VCU to switch conferences comes just two weeks after Butler University, a mid-major with just as much, if not more national notoriety as the Rams, announced their intent to join the A-10 from the Horizon League effective in 2013. Butler and VCU will serve as replacements for Temple, who leaves for the Big East after next season; and UNC Charlotte, who is rumored to be returning to Conference USA in an attempt to take their football program to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.
VCU's immediate departure has positive effects on both the CAA and Atlantic 10. For starters, the A-10 picks up another marquee name to help sell their conference tournament's impending move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, while the CAA is still a quality mid-major league headed by George Mason, Drexel and Hofstra. In addition, the CAA tournament becomes more of a neutral site at the Richmond Coliseum, and the league's current ten-team structure will create more of a competitive balance.
Going back to VCU, their new conference schedule will add new juice to mid-major rivalries with Xavier, Temple, (at least for one year) St. Joseph's and Butler (as of 2013) that now become conference games. Their presence at Rose Hill Gym will no doubt sell out any games the Rams play against Fordham, and most importantly, the intra-city rivalry with Richmond gets renewed in conference games once again now that both programs are in the same league. The 2011 Atlantic 10 champions, Chris Mooney's Spiders came to their current home in 2001 by way of the CAA.
With the Big East's stability in question after former commissioner John Marinatto's efforts to expand the league ultimately failed, the Atlantic 10 is fast becoming the next breakout star in college basketball. Once in the shadow of an established league, the new kid on the block could very well be regarded as a high-major soon enough.