In Defense of the A-10

By Jim Alderson, 3/14/00

I have found it interesting to read all of the negative comments from Tech fans as we bid adieu to the Atlantic 10. More than a few, including Will’s, have not been kind. The league has been blamed for just about everything from the trashing of our basketball program to the reason that program recently received scant television opportunities to the cold winter weather in Blacksburg. I would like to present a contrary view.

The A-10 was not our choice. Tech and the majority of our fans did not want to join an Eastern league comprised mostly of small private schools, preferring instead to join an Eastern league comprised mostly of small private schools -- the one with the big television contract. The stumbling block proved to be the fact that that second Eastern league didn’t want us.

Dave Braine was quite surprised back in 94 when the Big East invitation he thought he had in the bag did not materialize due to some back room and last minute finagling and honking. He later found himself scrambling when our good friends at Louisville jumped the Metro ship, leading to that league’s sudden dissolution and our discovery that the members of the new CUSA didn’t want us, either.

Our choices for all-sports membership were few, consisting only of the CAA, whose members certainly saw the benefits, to them, of allowing our fans in Richmond, NOVA and Hampton Roads to purchase tickets to their arenas, and the A-10. We could rail all we wanted about those dastardly BE basketball schools conspiring to keep us out, which is exactly what they did, they weren’t letting us in, or at least until the survival of their own fat television contracts depended on it.

The CAA was simply not a viable option. Imagine the quality of team we would have fielded over the last couple of years without Rolan Roberts or Dennis Mims, because they never would have come to a CAA Tech. Announcing to the world that we now longer aspired to compete at the highest athletic levels would not have been the wisest course of action, and may have had negative implications for what did eventually bring us full BE membership, our football team. Given the choices, the A-10 looked pretty good at the time.

The A-10 welcomed us with open arms when no other legitimate conference would, and we should be thankful for it. They allowed us to establish the Eastern basketball presence we desperately wanted and needed to complement our football program, and we were able to compete in mostly the same metropolitan areas, if not against the same teams. They also allowed us to use our bigger athletic budgets to mostly steamroll their smaller schools lacking our financial muscle in the non-revenue sports. That is quite an impressive array of Atlantic 10 championships we have amassed over the last five years. But, we did not immediately rocket to the top in the A-10 sport that mattered most to most of us. I submit that this was not entirely, or mostly, the A-10’s fault.

We did the lion’s share of the trashing of our men’s basketball program to ourselves. My guess is that if Bobby Hussey could have 1) convinced some quality guards to actually show up at Tech after they told him they would, or 2) keep the ones who did come from an early blowing of town, we would have spent most of the past five years somewhere near the top of the A-10 West.

If Nathaniel Bailey and Tony Stanley, or Jenis Grindstaff and Kenny Harrell had anchored our backcourt, I think we would be looking at a team that would have won in the neighborhood of twenty games, and we would now be looking at an NCAA bid. Thanks, Bobby. The conference had little to do with the academic problems of Bailey, Stanley changing his mind (after all, he wound up at another A-10 school), Grindstaff’s religious fervor, or Harrell’s unfortunate behavior.

Some schools have prospered in the A-10. John Chaney, who also had the BE rug jerked from under him, has continued to win at an impressive clip, and Xavier and Dayton, who came in at the same time as us, have done pretty well. I talked with some Dayton fans before our season-ending game, and they were quite happy with A-10 membership. The league is what you make of it, and we did not take advantage of the opportunities it did offer.

While the Atlantic 10 was good to us when we needed them, we have hardly returned the favor. We came in with a Just Passing Through attitude, and spent every last minute we were there griping about having to play in their lousy conference. They knew we wanted to be elsewhere and would bolt like Andre Davis towards the end zone at the exact instant something better came along. They took us anyway, and for five years endured our complaining.

What, exactly, did the A-10 get for their trouble? Looking at it from their viewpoint, when they extended our invitation they thought they were getting a solid basketball program on the rise that would provide a similar level of competition to the West Virginia and Rutgers teams that had just exited, as well as extend the conference’s reach into new Virginia markets. What they got was a bunch of whiners blaming them as one of the more egregious examples of the Peter Principle systematically tore down what he and Bill Foster had constructed. It is not their fault they are not the Big East. Most of their members strive to be the best they can under the circumstances; we did not.

The Atlantic 10 now resides in Virginia Tech’s basketball history, joining the Southern and Metro. But, as we prepare for what is likely to be a lengthy stay at the bottom of the BE’s Frequent Flyer Division, we should at least add to the " Adios" we are giving the A-10 a " Gracias." They took us in when we were homeless, and while it may not have been what we wanted, the Rolling Stones tell us we can’t always get what we want. For five years, the Atlantic 10 did indeed give us what we needed.

Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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