Wednesday, May 16, 2012

VCU's move to the A-10 could pay off - in time

From joining arguably the top non-BCS basketball conference to adding a home-and-home series with city rival Richmond, there should be a lot for VCU's women's basketball fans to be excited about with the move to the Atlantic 10.


But it may take some time for the Rams to find their way in their new league. Of course, with the departure of head coach Beth Cunningham and the graduation of stars Courtney Hurt and Andrea Barbour, the 2012-13 season figured to be a transition year no matter what conference VCU resided in. In a lot of respects, VCU currently finds itself in a similar situation to the one Old Dominion faced last year, when heavy graduation losses and the resignation of Wendy Larry led to an 11-win rebuilding season.

Compounding VCU's challenge is the fact that the Atlantic 10 is a slightly more challenging circuit than the CAA the Rams used to call home. The leagues are actually quite comparable top-to-bottom; in fact, the CAA actually ranked a couple ticks higher (7) than the A-10 (9) in conference RPI in 2011-12.
But in terms of strength at the top, the Rams' new conference blows the CAA away. Over the last 10 years, the Atlantic 10 has received 16 at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament; the CAA just three. The A-10 has also sent three teams to the NCAAs in five of the last six years, while the CAA has received three tournament bids only once in its history (2007).

The loss of Temple, which reached the NCAA's eight straight years until missing out in 2011-12, will rob the A-10 of one of its powers, as the Owls will depart for the Big East in 2013. Then again, the CAA has realignment issues of its own. And even without Temple, the Atlantic 10 will still have plenty of NCAA contenders for VCU to try to topple.

The good news for the Rams is their chances of going to the NCAAs ought to be pretty good if they can finish second or third. The bad news is finishing second or third now figures to be tougher than ever. And remember, this is a VCU team that, despite the presence of Hurt and Barbour, came in sixth in the CAA in 2011-12.

So the first challenge for VCU is to land a coach who can not just match Cunningham's achievements - no easy trick - but ultimately exceed them. Because for VCU to become a force in its new league, the Rams will likely need to be at least as good, and probably better, than they've ever been.

Here's hoping that new coach also has some ideas about how to get more fans at the games, as the success of VCU's men's basketball team certainly hasn't transferred any support to the women's team. In fact, VCU's attendance is an argument for moving to the A-10, as Rams fans sure didn't turn out to see their supposed CAA rivals. VCU's average attendance for its nine CAA home games was 450, the second-lowest in the 12-team league, ahead of only Northeastern (166). Only 359 fans showed up to see the Rams play long-time rival Old Dominion, and just 441 were there when VCU hosted William and Mary.

Visits from Xavier and St. Bonaventure can't draw worse than that, can they?

As for road games, the travel required for A-10 play, while definitely more extensive, doesn't figure to be too daunting. The A-10 plays 16 conference games as opposed to the CAA's 18, so the Rams will now have one less road trip to make. They won't have to leave the city for one of their road games (Richmond), and trips to George Washington and St. Joseph's shouldn't be that taxing.

Given the amount of retooling the Rams are undergoing, virtually every Atlantic 10 game figures to be a challenge in 2012-13. But if VCU can land the right coach, energize its fanbase and build on Cunningham's successes, the move to the Atlantic 10 sets the Rams up to escape the uncertainties of the CAA and establish themselves as real players in a top-flight, basketball-focused conference.



  1. Let's hope that Shaka Smart will lend his hand in this coaching search as well. I THINK the road games to St. Joseph's is THAT taxing, though.


  2. The idea that VCU will magically start supporting their WBB team now that they are in the A10 is a cruel joke. The A10 is roughly equivalent to the CAA in WBB rpi (the CAA has the stronger argument/claim that the CAA is the better WBB conference) which will only mean that with the recent coaching change and graduations, VCU's WBB program will struggle this coming season, and likely for several more to come.

    VCU made the move to the A10 for MBB...much to the detriment to all their other sports.