By JOSH VERLIN
It’s been quite a few years since the Atlantic 10 was an honest name for the conference, with membership fluctuating between 11 and 14 institutions for the better part of the last two decades. The addition of Virginia Commonwealth University and Butler University to the fold for the 2012-13 season gives the A-10 a league-record 16 competing members, which could have a bit of an effect on the Philadelphia basketball scene.
The league’s numbers will retract back to 14 next season with the loss of Temple (Big East) and Charlotte (C-USA), but for one season a conference that’s suddenly one of the largest in the country is going to have to do quite a bit of schedule adjusting.
The Atlantic 10 has been playing a 16-game league schedule since expanding to nine teams back in 1993-94, going with a divisional format from 1995-2005 before that year’s addition of Charlotte and Saint Louis saw the beginning of the current format of playing three home-and-home matchups each year.
Following VCU’s announcement that they were joining the league a few weeks back, it was assumed that each school would have a pair of home-and-home games for 2012-13.
“When we were at the Atlantic 10 meetings last week,” Dunphy said, “I was hoping that our two home-and-home opponents would be Saint Joe’s and La Salle for obvious reasons–no travel time, no missed class time, the rivalries, increased attendance, all of those things.”
For the last few years the Temple Owls have played city rivals La Salle and Saint Joseph’s twice per season, facing La Salle only once in 2008 but otherwise playing four A-10 city games in each regular season since 2004-05. Now, it doesn’t look like that will happen in Temple’s final season before joining the Big East in 2013.
“This is just my guess, and it’s only a guess, but I would think that we’ll play 14 teams once and one team twice,” La Salle coach John Giannini told Philahoops by phone Tuesday. “The 18-game (schedule) would be difficult because people obviously are committed to a certain number of non-conference games, anticipating 16 conference games.”
Dunphy greed with Giannini in that the league seemed destined for a 16-game schedule with just one home-and-home matchup, saying “I don’t think (an 18-game schedule) can be done this year” due to non-conference scheduling difficulties.
“I’m in favor of playing your rivals twice, home-and-home,” Dunphy said. “I think it would be spectacular for Philadelphia…the rivalry, no travel, no missed class time…we would have loved it if we could have played Saint Joe’s and La Salle (twice).”
Last year’s city series provided for a pair of entertaining second matchups. Saint Joseph’s got their revenge for an 18-point defeat at the hands of Temple earlier in the season with a 10-point victory at Hagan Arena, while La Salle took Temple to overtime before falling 80-79 on Feb. 22, after losing by just six points at the Liacouras Center a few weeks before.
Still, while the city’s basketball fans look certain to miss out on a potentially thrilling rematch game or two, it’s not entirely clear that fewer rivalry games has to be a negative thing.
“I’m kinda split myself,” Giannini said about playing city rivals more than once per season. “I love those (Big 5) games, and one the one hand you could say ‘the more the better’, but on the other hand you could say that those once-a-year games make it even more dramatic and creates a winner-take-all type of atmosphere and it creates a fan interest that’s extremely strong knowing this is the one opportunity to be able to see this game.”
Josh Verlin is a staff writer for Philahoops.com. Follow him on Twitter @jmverlin