How Butler, VCU have lifted the A-10

January, 25, 2013

Every team in the A-10 needs to thank the Horizon League and the Colonial Athletic Association for their stringent rules preventing Butler and VCU from playing in the conference tournament.

That was the reason the Bulldogs and Rams bolted a year early to the A-10 once the leagues said a pending departure meant they couldn't represent the league in the conference tournament or play for the automatic berth per the bylaws.

Take those two teams out of the A-10 this season, and suddenly the league is suspect and loses the high-profile matchups that have occurred this past week and resulted in court storming.

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Richard Mackson/US PresswireBrad Stevens and Shaka Smart have brought a new legitimacy to the A-10.

La Salle's win over Butler helped validate the Explorers. Take Butler out of the league and suddenly La Salle doesn't have the same opportunity. Xavier is not ranked, and while the Musketeers are doing their normal thing in the A-10 and hovering atop the standings, beating X doesn't mean as much this season. The same is true of Temple.

"The win for us is a great one because we beat a top-50 team, and top-20 wins are key to getting in the NCAA tournament,'' said La Salle coach John Giannini. "It's also a great perception win for your recruits and alums because [Butler is] a recognized national program.

"From a coaching perspective, they play so hard and are so sound, they force you to be better yourself,'' said Giannini. "If you could scrimmage them every day you would become a top team, because they raise your bar so high. For the league, they give you the opportunity for a marquee win, they raise the RPI and give exposure.''

The same applies for VCU. Richmond and VCU were once in the CAA together in the late '90s. Having the two programs in the same league again for the first time since 2001 means they will play twice a season. The game created interest in the local media and will be a key rivalry going forward in the A-10. They are also guaranteed sellouts for both VCU and Richmond.

La Salle's win over Butler produced a court storming. Would La Salle storm on any other A-10 school, outside of VCU, now?

The A-10 has had a number of teams take turns at the top, with the two most consistent programs being Xavier and Temple. Temple will be gone to the Big East next season. When the A-10 secured Butler and VCU as members and then actually got them a year earlier, it turned out to be the biggest coup in all of the realignment moves.

Clearly, there have been moves made for financial and football reasons that have helped and will help some of the top conferences. But the Butler and VCU moves, while not done for money, have improved the competitive balance, national recognition and profile of the A-10 more than any other expansion moves in recent memory.

And that's why it will be imperative for the A-10 to do whatever it can to keep them from being poached by the departing Big East Catholic seven schools. If those schools take Xavier and/or Dayton, then it will be a hit for the league. Losing Butler, though, would be devastating. The Butler brand resonates with this class of students more than any other school in the A-10 because they remember the consecutive title-game appearances. Butler will likely be courted and will probably go if the offer is too good. The schools departing the Big East will likely go only with private schools, not just religiously based, which means VCU is out. But it's still a fluid situation.

No one would have noticed if La Salle was atop the standings and had beaten Xavier or Temple. But knocking off Butler and the subsequent court storm gets the league and its programs the national recognition they so desperately need.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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