Why Basketball Is Driving Conference Realignment For The Atlantic 10 Conference
Yesterday, the Atlantic 10 Conference announced that Butler University would join the conference on July 1, 2012–one year earlier than anticipated. Gaining Butler a year ahead of schedule grants the Atlantic 10 Conference the benefit of competing with 16 member institutions during the 2012-13 school year, before Temple and Charlotte depart the conference. While this is definitely a perk for the conference, perhaps the biggest benefit the conference gains in Butler’s expedited admission is the chance to become a basketball powerhouse.
Although the Atlantic 10 Conference does not receive the same media recognition as BCS AQ conferences, in recent years, the Atlantic 10 has made its name as a conference which is consistently competitive in basketball. Thus, it is no surprise that in selecting new institution members during the course of conference realignment, that the Atlantic 10 has aligned itself with some of the best-performing basketball schools in recent years: Butler and VCU.
Much has been said about the roles that football and television contracts played and continue to play in conference realignment decisions. However, one cannot turn a blind eye to the power of a strong basketball program when it comes to attracting conferences. Although basketball does not have the monstrously large viewership numbers that football does, it does have a wide enough following to garner billion dollar contracts for the television rights to March Madness. On top of the television contract negotiation potential strong basketball programs present, there is also the fact that the greatest portion of the revenue distributed by the NCAA is distributed to conferences based upon their team’s March Madness performance. Given these factors, it is apparent why the Atlantic Ten Conference has based its stake in conference realignment not upon football prowess, but upon basketball.
As noted above, of the revenue distributed by the NCAA to conferences and member institutions, the greatest percentage goes towards something called the “Basketball Distribution Fund.” Conferences receive payouts from the fund based upon their member institution’s performance in the Division I Men’s Basketball Championship over a six-year rolling period. A basketball program earns one unit for each March Madness game they compete in, save for the National Championship game. For the most recent year in which data is available, 2010-11, the NCAA distributed $479 million to conferences and member institutions through the Basketball Distribution Fund. This amounted to 40.5 percent of all revenue distributed by the NCAA in 2010-11.
The follow chart shows the number of Basketball Distribution Fund units that the Atlantic 10 Conference has earned over the last three years. The chart depicts what the conference earned through its actual members’ performances in a given year, and also notes how many additional units that the conference could have earned if Butler and VCU were conference members in a particular year.
|2010||Units Earned||2011||Units Earned||2012||Units Earned|
|Butler||5 + NC||Butler||5 + NC||Xavier||3|
|2010 Total: 3||2011 Total: 6||2012 Total: 7|
|With Butler and VCU: 8 + NC||With Butler and VCU: 16 + NC||With Butler and VCU: 9|
When considering the chart above, the presence of Butler and VCU in the Atlantic 10 clearly generates additional revenue for the conference. In 2010, three Atlantic 10 schools participated in March Madness: Richmond, Temple and Xavier. These schools accumulated three units for the conference. Had Butler been an Atlantic 10 member in 2010, the conference would have nearly tripled its Basketball Distribution Fund units, while also receiving a payout for Butler’s National Championship game appearance. If Butler and VCU were Atlantic 10 Conference members in 2011, the conference would have earned an additional ten Basketball Distribution Fund units and again, received a payout for Butler’s National Championship game appearance. Similarly, in 2012, the Atlantic 10 Conference could have received an additional two Basketball Distribution Fund units had VCU been a member of the conference.
While the amount of revenue generated from basketball contracts and the Basketball Distribution Fund is meager compared to the amount of money football generates, not every conference can woo college football powerhouses to their stables through conference realignment. Thus, what the Atlantic 10 Conference has accomplished through conference realignment is noteworthy. Although it will lose a historically sound basketball program in 2014 when Temple leaves for the Big East, it has replaced that leaving member with two noteworthy programs. Additionally, the Atlantic 10 has attracted two members which in recent years, the general public nationally has been interested in watching. With young, charismatic coaches that also boast successful track records in Brad Stevens and Shaka Smart, Butler and VCU respectively have garnered Cinderella story followings across the country. One can expect the Atlantic 10 to capitalize upon this should either team have similarly successful March Madness runs in the future.
Overall, while the Atlantic 10’s conference realignment path was not driven by football, it appears that the conference has been successful in laying a new foundation for its future.