Get Ready, Here We Come

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Davidson Joins the A10 July 1

Ten years ago, Phil Martelli coached the St. Joseph’s University Hawks men’s basketball team to a 27-0 regular-season record, the last undefeated regular-season NCAA Division I team before this year’s Wichita State squad. Martelli is loud and unabashed—a typical Philadelphia basketball partisan who grew up there, played ball there (he’s the career assists leader for Division III Widener University) and now has coached nearly 400 wins there at St. Joe’s.

Having had his ups and downs in the Atlantic 10, he is also a big booster of the conference, and is among those ecstatic to have Davidson become a new member for 2014-15.

“I’m excited about Davidson joining the Atlantic 10,” said Martelli. “From a basketball perspective, they’ve always done things with a touch of class. Recruiting, coaching and schedule will all add to what is a remarkable basketball-centric league.”

Martelli’s comments are echoed throughout Davidson’s new conference. Administrators and coaches all seem to like the idea of a school with high academic standards and a clean reputation joining them.

“Davidson is such a great fit for our league, with its commitment to academics and athletics excellence. The A-10 is experiencing unprecedented success and the addition of Davidson ensures our conference will continue to be strong,” said University of Richmond athletic director Keith Gill.

“Davidson epitomizes what the league is all about,” said Duquesne University men’s basketball coach Jim Ferry. “It is a great academic institution with a great basketball tradition. I have known Bob McKillop for a long time, and to be able to bring in a coach like him—who exudes class and is one of the great guys in this profession—is fantastic for the conference. Davidson will only continue to elevate the profile of the Atlantic 10.”

On the Move

Davidson Athletic Director Jim Murphy is careful to note that the move to the Atlantic 10 is not entirely about basketball, though the men’s and women’s basketball teams in the conference are the highest profile squads on most of the campuses. In fact, several of the schools in the A-10 don’t even have football teams—LaSalle, St. Joseph’s and George Mason among them.

Murphy said joining the A-10 was not really on the radar screen a few years ago when he and others at Davidson were looking at the wave of moves by all levels of Division I schools.

“We thought our best resolution was to have a stronger Southern Conference, so that is where we looked initially. We had had a long history in the conference and that seemed the best route,” said Murphy.

Ultimately, though, some teams moved out of the A-10— Temple, Butler, Xavier and, especially, UNC Charlotte—and the conference was looking for replacements. With addition of football to its roster, Charlotte wanted to move to a more football-oriented conference, so the vacuum in Charlotte made Davidson a natural choice to replace it.

“This is a good market for us in the southeastern part of the United States,” said Bernadette V. McGlade, the Atlantic 10 commissioner. “If you look at our footprint, we are in major cities across the country, and have good academic schools, so there was no question that Davidson was a good fit.”

Still, Murphy said, it was not a jump-immediately situation. Davidson has gotten used to relatively easy bus rides for its teams to away games in the Southern Conference. With the A-10, the closest schools would be Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth at least four hours of driving away, and then much longer trips to the likes of University of Massachusetts (near Boston), St. Bonaventure (near Buffalo) and the Universities of Dayton and St. Louis. There will certainly be more plane trips and time away from campus, said Murphy.

“We had to make a commitment to the faculty that the students will be in class. We will do what we need to do to make schedules work,” said Murphy. “This is not just an athletic decision but an institutional one.”

At the same time, Murphy said, with schools like Elon and College of Charleston leaving, the Southern Conference was going through its own transformation, so something had to give.

“Looking into the future from where we stood, we also had to look at the cost of doing nothing as well as the cost of moving,” said Murphy.

pgs18-21_Get-Ready-RedFingerHigh Profile

Jennifer Joslin ’01, who directs the Student Services Center at George Washington, one of Davidson’s new A-10 competitors, said she will now probably wear a GW hat and a Davidson shirt at games in the future, but sees the two schools as being compatible in the conference.

“This is a great opportunity to raise the profile of [Davidson’s] program in key Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states,” said Joslin, who played basketball as a freshman at Davidson. “This move could potentially increase the number and diversity of applications from those states.”

It is not just men’s basketball coaches in the Atlantic 10 who are welcoming Davidson but those in other sports as well.

“Davidson’s outstanding academic reputation speaks for itself and their location is a good balance for the conference,” said St. Joseph’s baseball coach Fritz Hamburg. Having a conference opponent in the South, where they can play early-spring games, is important to the recruiting efforts of the more northern baseball teams.

“The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back 20-win seasons, which is a testament to the work of the Atlantic 10 in landing another up-and-coming program in women’s basketball. Davidson’s commitment to building and sustaining a women’s basketball program that aspires to reach the NCAA Tournament every year speaks to the caliber that our conference attracts,” said George Washington University women’s basketball coach Jonathan Tsipis.

Former Davidson basketball player and assistant coach Landry Kosmalski ’00 just finished his second year as coach at Swarthmore College, in the middle of the intense basketball vortex that is the Philadelphia area. He said that Davidson will enjoy coming to the Northeast to play, but only if it ends up fitting with the full-college ethos.

“The bigger question relates to maintaining the near-perfect academic-athletic balance Davidson offers,” said Kosmalski. “Will our student-athletes be able to continue to perform as well in the classroom if they are traveling farther distances and for longer periods of time? Will our teams be on a level playing field with the other conference members and therefore have opportunities to experience sustained success? I am optimistic and think that the answers will prove to be a resounding ‘Yes’.”

Conference commissioner McGlade worked with Davidson’s Murphy for a number of years when they were both at Georgia Tech and called him “progressive,” which she said is just what the conference needs as it looks for more TV and other media exposure. She said she knows that Davidson is also moving into the A-10 to attract more non-athletic students from the Northeast and Midwest to the school, and said the other schools are similarly attracted to having students from the South apply there.

“We all benefit from each other as a collective brand to get the Atlantic 10 to have national exposure,” said McGlade. She said by next year, there should be 200 Atlantic 10 basketball games on regional, syndicated or national TV—the conference has a package with ESPN, CBS and NBC—and there will be a continuing effort to get all sports on mobile apps and other online feeds.

“I think this will help everyone recruit regular undergrad students,” she said. “So much of the culture identifies with athletic programs, so we think this will be a win-win-win for the A-10 and Davidson College.”

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About Author

Robert Strauss

Robert Strauss is a freelance writer and former Sports Illustrated reporter. His book, Daddy’s Little Goalie, is a funny and sentimental memoir about being the father of athletic daughters, Ella (Davidson ’14) and Sylvia (Davidson ’17).

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