Saturday, September 20, 2003

A-10 poised for expansion

Saint Louis, Charlotte could get invites after Big East raids C-USA

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In the race to realign that has swept up college athletics this summer, the Atlantic 10 Conference, which includes Xavier University, has gone on the offensive and will seek to add two to four members once the Big East Conference announces its own expansion plan.

Two reliable sources from schools within the Atlantic 10 told the Enquirer on Friday that the Atlantic 10 presidents have discussed inviting Saint Louis and Charlotte, currently Conference USA members, when the Big East makes its expected move to add Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and DePaul.

If the Big East decides to expand without adding non-football schools Marquette and DePaul, the Atlantic 10 probably will extend invitations to those schools as well, sources said. The Atlantic 10 will make its move to expand within a matter of days following Big East expansion, with the changes going into effect for the 2005-06 season. Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese said earlier this month he anticipates the conference finalizing its expansion in November.

The Atlantic 10 presidents discussed expansion two weeks ago in a face-to-face meeting, and they remain on alert for a conference call should league commissioner Linda Bruno deem one necessary. Bruno did not return telephone messages left at her office Friday by the Enquirer.

"We have an option to remain in C-USA," said Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose. "Hopefully we'll have options to land in the A-10. I say hopefully, because I haven't been offered an official invitation. My initial reaction is we are very interested in continuing to have conversations with the A-10."

Said University of Dayton athletic director Ted Kissell, whose school is an Atlantic 10 member: "We like what we see in Saint Louis and Charlotte."

The Atlantic 10 has 12 members. Expanding to 14 teams could occur with few problems, but 16 teams could make governing the league unwieldy and might lead to performance requirements to weed out under-performing programs or force them to improve.

"If you look at the conference, people have looked at us as being in the footprint of the Big East," Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski said. "The difference from a men's basketball perspective is most striking at the bottom of the league. (The Big East has) had success with their teams at the bottom of the league. We have had over the same period of years ... teams that have consistently been in position where they hurt the league. Their RPI (ratings percentage index) has never gotten to a satisfactory level. We have interest in having those schools bring it up."

Fordham and Duquesne are the most consistently underachieving programs in the Atlantic 10. They have finished nearly every season near the bottom of the standings for the RPI, which measures winning percentage and schedule strength.

Fordham has finished with an RPI worse than 200 in six of the last eight years, failing to make the postseason every year. Duquesne has finished worse than 200 in five of the last eight years, also failing to reach the postseason.

"If it's appropriate, we could consider strategic new members that would come into the upper third of the league," Bobinski said. "We have a very strong interest in having a competitive position for our men's and women's basketball programs. We want to continue to take steps along the way that will ensure that for Xavier."



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