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George Mason addition leaves questions for Atlantic 10

  • George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt tosses a folded t-shirt into the stands after his team defeated Virginia on Nov. 9, 2012, in Fairfax, Va. Hewitt's squad will play in the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season.

    George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt tosses a folded t-shirt into the stands after his team defeated Virginia on Nov. 9, 2012, in Fairfax, Va. Hewitt's squad will play in the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season. Purchase photo reprints »

  • George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt tosses a folded t-shirt into the stands after his team defeated Virginia on Nov. 9, 2012, in Fairfax, Va. Hewitt's squad will play in the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season.

    George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt tosses a folded t-shirt into the stands after his team defeated Virginia on Nov. 9, 2012, in Fairfax, Va. Hewitt's squad will play in the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season. Purchase photo reprints »

  • George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt tosses a folded t-shirt into the stands after his team defeated Virginia on Nov. 9, 2012, in Fairfax, Va. Hewitt's squad will play in the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season.
  • George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt tosses a folded t-shirt into the stands after his team defeated Virginia on Nov. 9, 2012, in Fairfax, Va. Hewitt's squad will play in the Atlantic 10 in the 2013-14 season.

George Mason’s addition to the Atlantic 10 was officially announced Monday partially answering the question of how the league would react to the departures of Xavier and Butler. But it left plenty of other questions unanswered.

1. Is there another addition coming? George Mason gives the A-10 13 schools. Most people assume the league will eventually get to an even number, which is easier for scheduling.

Siena is rumored to be holding a press conference on Wednesday to announce something. Is it hiring a new coach after firing Mitch Buonaguro on March 12? Is it to announce that the Saints are joining the Atlantic 10 or perhaps they’re replacing George Mason in the CAA? If Siena is changing conferences it would make sense to announce it before hiring a coach as an Atlantic 10 job is far more desirable than a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference gig.

Atlantic 10 commissioner Bernadette McGlade has been effectively aggressive in the conference realignment game. She landed Butler and Virginia Commonwealth to replace Temple and Charlotte before the Owls and 49ers were even gone. During the teleconference following the George Mason announcement, McGlade said that 13 is a workable scheduling number for basketball as well as other sports. But none of that rules out adding a 14th.

2. If the league is expanding and not adding Siena, then whom? Davidson? Cleveland State? Delaware? Florida Gulf Coast?

3. Is McGlade expanding to replace Xavier and Butler or fortifying against future defections? Perhaps both. There’s no certainty that the new Big East is done adding and Saint Louis, Dayton and to a lesser extent VCU have been rumored as potential targets. Xavier, Butler and Creighton gave the new league 10 schools which makes it viable for 2013-14. It’s possible it is starting with 10 with the intention of expanding when the additional schools would have smaller payouts to leave their current conferences. It’s also possible the league doesn’t want to divide its television revenues with two more schools.

4. Does it make sense for Saint Louis or Dayton to stay in the A-10 if the league doesn’t add another Midwest school? With Xavier and Butler gone, both schools aren’t really near anyone else in the league. Other than the Horizon, which is a sizable step down, Dayton doesn’t really have a good place to go if it’s not invited. But it’s still expensive to be schlepping soccer and baseball teams at least 250 miles for every road trip.

Saint Louis is further away and has a more viable alternative. The Billikens are 359 miles from their closest A-10 rival (Dayton) and could potentially replace Creighton in the Missouri Valley. Would it make sense for the A-10 to look at Cleveland or Indiana State to entice both schools to stay?

5. How many conference basketball games is the Atlantic 10 going to play in the future? While most of the teleconference was more like a wedding rehearsal dinner with everyone praising everyone else and welcoming them to the family, McGlade released one particularly noteworthy item. The league might switch from 16 to 18 league games.

On an in-season conference call during the 2011-12 season, more of the league’s coaches were against the idea than for it, but the landscape has changed since then.

“We have been discussing 16- and 18-game conference schedules,” McGlade said. “The majority of the Division I conferences who have been successful in basketball have all bumped up to 18. This addition gives us the opportunity to revisit that and revisit it in pretty short order.”

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon believes an 18-game schedule could not happen as quickly as next season.

“I doubt she was saying that about next season. I think most of us are pretty well into scheduling for next year,” said McCutcheon, who wanted more time to evaluate an increased schedule before weighing in publicly. “We’ll debate the pros and cons of that. Does that increase the conference strength of schedule and RPI or not?

“. . . It’s how you schedule those that makes the determination,” he added. “In our case it’s a little different because of the commitment we have with the MAC that takes away some of the flexibility in terms of nonconference games. We’ll look at it in terms of what it means to us and we’ll look at it in terms of what it means to the overall conference as well.”

An 18-game league schedule would present a different challenge for UMass than the rest of the A-10 teams. The Minutemen are already contractually obligated to play four games against Mid-American Conference schools as part of their agreement for joining the league in football. Adding two more league games means the Minutemen would be locked into 22 games per season. Add the annual exempted tournament, which counts for one game, and UMass would have just five games to schedule.

McCutcheon said there’s no reason to expect that MAC contract to change soon.

“It’s part of our agreement with” the MAC, he said. “We could bring it back up with them. But where we are now they would have the right to hold us to that commitment. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.”

6. Is George Mason a good addition for UMass? It would seem to be. Like VCU and Butler, George Mason has a solid commitment to basketball that could make the Patriots competitive quickly and help to counteract the strength of schedule and RPI hit the A-10 took from losing Xavier and Butler.

On top of that, GMU gives the league another big (32,000 students) state school, similar to UMass. Having schools of similar size and missions is helpful when the league is voting on policies.

On top of that, Fairfax, Va., is just outside of Washington, D.C., which allows other UMass sports teams to get there easily and relatively inexpensively. The Minutemen’s sizable alumni fan base in the D.C. area will also have a place to see games.

UMass coach Derek Kellogg began his coaching career as an assistant at George Mason under former coach Jim Larranaga from 1997 to 1999.

“From having worked there, I think it’s a great addition to our conference,” Kellogg said. “They have a beautiful campus, great facilities. They’ve proven over the last 10 to 15 years they’re committed to men’s basketball and having a big-time program. I think they’re a great addition.”

McCutcheon agreed.

“They fit geographically. They’ve been fairly consistent with men’s basketball. Obviously the A-10 is a basketball-centric conference. They’re a good addition,” McCutcheon said. “The most important thing is to bring somebody in that brings value to the conference that we thought would be a good partner. We were fortunate that they were interested and the opportunity came together.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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