Adding mid-major golden boy Brad Stevens is actually a huge shot in the arm for Atlantic 10, which officially welcomes Butler from Horizon League in July of 2013. (Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)
A conference rarely gets a marquee program to replace another, especially when the league in question is a mid-major.
Despite its standing as one of the nation's best second-tier conferences, the Atlantic 10 moved one step closer to the Big East and Atlantic Coast Conferences with the welcoming of Butler University. The Bulldogs will join their new league in July 2013 for all sports, replacing Temple after the Philadelphia institution announced its intent to join the Big East.
This move is only the tip of the latest realignment iceberg, one which includes Old Dominion headlining a group of schools rumored to be leaving the Colonial Athletic Association in favor of Conference USA; but when you add Butler to the ranks of A-10 basketball, the league becomes exponentially better as a result.
Butler continues the trend of westward expansion for the Atlantic 10, which already counts Midwest programs such as Xavier, Dayton and Saint Louis among its thirteen (not counting Temple) members; and each of those schools has a basketball tradition just as rich as that of the Bulldogs, who of course rose to prominence by virtue of their consecutive appearances in the national championship game in 2010 and 2011. In addition, Hinkle Fieldhouse instantly becomes one of the best facilities in the conference from both an aestehetic and historic perspective; and the newcomers will help the conference promote its tournament, which moves to Brooklyn's Barclays Center effective next March.
Butler will also benefit from its new home by being able to attract higher quality recruits, a notion that has been dismissed given its relatively small recruiting classes in the wake of their two national runner-up finishes. The "Butler Way" promoted by the school would not need to be sacrificed, as the program has now earned the coveted title of one that sells itself. In fact, Butler will now be able to open its doors and gain a stronger presence around the greater New York AAU scene for example, and there is no doubt that some of the underrated talent throughout the Northeast will be drawn to the national media darling and head coach Brad Stevens just at first blush.
Stevens also adds credibility to the coaching ranks as well, and despite my prior opinions that the 35-year-old head man may be slightly overrated due to his overachieving at such a young age, there is no denying what he brings to the table. Along with Xavier's Chris Mack, Chris Mooney of Richmond and newcomers Jim Ferry (Duquesne) and Dan Hurley, (Rhode Island) Stevens becomes the heart of a young coaching nucleus that will become synonymous with college basketball success regardless of whether or not any of them leave for better jobs in the long run; and will augment an already strong stable of leaders that includes Rick Majerus, (Saint Louis) Phil Martelli (St. Joe's) and even Tom Pecora (Fordham) as some of its elder statesmen.
The Atlantic 10 already made a commitment to becoming just as good as the Big East by moving its tournament into New York from Atlantic City and seemingly taking on the established giant head-to-head just across the river from Madison Square Garden. The addition of Butler, with perhaps George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth to follow if rumors are true; not only gives the A-10 an influx of basketball power to match the Big East's additions of Temple and Memphis, but may also be the bolder and more visionary move that helps close the gap between a proven commodity and one whose rise to superstardom began years ago with the success of Massachusetts and rise of Xavier. Pittsburgh and Syracuse already put the Big East on the ropes with their defections to the ACC. Butler could be the first jab toward what Atlantic 10 officials hope will be an eventual knockout and changing of the guard in college basketball.