Bill Trocchi
Thursday January 24th, 2008

Should the Atlantic 10 be considered a mid-major conference?

First, a quick story. Early in the season, I noticed Duquesne was off to a fast start, and decided the Dukes might make an interesting subject for the mid-major report given their extremely trying season a year ago. Only after I had started to work on the story did a colleague point out that I would be violating my guidelines for this column -- the Atlantic 10 was one of 10 conferences I had classified as majors. I never wrote the piece.

With two teams in the latest AP Top 25, and two others receiving votes, the A-10 is enjoying a much-needed resurgence. The league has been down for several years, and many in the media had started to refer to A-10 members as mid-major programs when they jumped back into the spotlight at the beginning of this season.

So does the Atlantic 10 fit into the ambiguous mid-major definition? I polled a panel of national experts to get their thoughts on the matter.

Here are their responses:

Seth Davis, Sports Illustrated

"There never will be one definition that everyone agrees on, so I elect to take a pass on the subjectivity. To me, a mid-major is defined by conference affiliation, period. If you're not in one of the six BCS conferences, or as we say in basketball, the so-called power conferences, then you are a mid-major. If you want to broaden it further, I'd say any league that has sent only one team to the NCAA tournament in the last five years is also a mid-major. So yes, the Atlantic 10 is a mid-major conference. Gonzaga, Butler and Southern Illinois are all mid-majors."

Jay Bilas, ESPN

"No. I identify a mid-major the same way that Justice Frankfurter of the U.S. Supreme Court identified obscenity -- I cannot define it, but I know it when I see it. It has nothing to do with BCS football, but has more to do with whether a league is a traditional one-bid conference. The Atlantic 10 is not a one-bid league, and it is not a mid-major conference. There is no way that Temple, Xavier, Charlotte, or Dayton could be called a mid-major."

Joe Lunardi, ESPN

"No matter how you slice it, the Atlantic 10 is NOT a mid-major conference. Are there "less than major" programs in the league? Absolutely, just as there are perennial non-NCAA programs in other power conferences. To me, any league receiving multiple NCAA bids on an annual basis belongs in the "major" category. The A-10, despite 2-3 below average seasons (by its own standards), remains in that class.

"Since I started Bracketology in 1996, the Atlantic 10 has an average annual ranking of 9.3 among 31 Division I conferences. More importantly, it has averaged three NCAA teams per year in that span. This is eighth-best in the country behind the so-called BCS leagues and shadow-of-itself Conference USA. In other words, the A-10 is now seventh-best out of 31 leagues.

"Throw in three No. 1 teams -- Temple (1988), UMass (1996) and Saint Joseph's (2004) -- and a pair of regional finalists as recently as three years ago, and the Atlantic 10 isn't in the 'middle' of anything in D-I college basketball. Not unless the middle of 1-31 somehow begins with the number seven."

Chris Dortch, Blue Ribbon Basketball Yearbook

"Any conference that includes members that have fairly recently advanced all the way to the Final Four (UMass) or the Elite Eight (Saint Joseph's), shouldn't be called mid-major. Do Atlantic 10 schools have the obscene budgets of those from a BCS league? No. But basketball is emphasized in the A-10, and at many schools, it's the bellwether sport in their athletic programs.

"I've never been fond of hair-splitting classifications, but if you're going to call a school or conference a mid-major, then, generally, that school or league couldn't consistently have a chance to do battle with teams from the game's more heavily funded conferences. I think several A-10 schools have clearly demonstrated they can compete with any team in the country. Thus, the league is not, in my opinion, a mid-major."

Jerry Palm, CollegeRPI.com

"I don't have a definition of mid-major that I like yet, so I don't use the term. You're either major or you're not. I define major as a conference that routinely gets at-large bids for non-[conference] champions. That's basically the big six. Conference USA used to be a major until it became Memphis and the 11 dwarves.

"I treated the A-10 as one until 2004, but only no non-champion has received an at-large bid since. Richmond in 2004 is the only team that didn't win at least a division to get one since 2001. The A-10 has been so bad the last three years that two regular season champions have been left out. It's playing like a major so far this year, but one year is not a trend, as the Valley found out.

"Here's a definition of mid-major to try out, but that I doubt will ever get wide acceptance. Any league that, over a five-year period, has sent every regular season champion or co-champion to the tournament with a seed no worse than the lowest seeded at-large team in the field. One other requirement is that at least two different teams currently in the league meet that requirement. I don't think conferences dominated by one good program are necessarily good leagues.

"Under that definition, you would have the Colonial, the Valley, and the Mountain West, so most people would think that's too strict of a standard."

Gary Parrish, CBS Sports.com

"This is a question that is impossible to answer, kinda like whether cheerleading is a sport. My instincts are to suggest that any league that has great facilities (like at Xavier), great support (like at Dayton), great history (like UMass, Saint Joseph's and Temple) and great markets (like Charlotte and Saint Louis) can't reasonably be considered a mid-major. On the other hand, the A-10 clearly isn't on par with any of the BCS-affiliated leagues. So who knows?

"And if the A-10 isn't a mid-major, is the MVC? And if C-USA is a mid-major, what's Memphis? Gonzaga?

"And if the Big East is a major, what's Rutgers? Or South Florida?

"That's why when I write -- or speak -- I never use the term mid-major. Never. Ever. If I want to group conferences, I use BCS-affiliated league or non-BCS affiliated league because then everybody knows exactly what I'm talking about. In general, schools from BCS leagues have the better programs, and I think as much is implied. But there are always exceptions that make it too difficult to paint with broad strokes, which is why I'm guessing we'll eventually reach the point when the term mid-major is obsolete in basketball because it causes too many debates that are impossible to conclude."

Unfortunately, I was unable to connect with Kyle Whelliston of midmajority.com, who is of the opinion that the A-10 is in the mid-major domain. That would have given this analysis more balance, but even still the majority would still be of the opinion that the league is above the college hoops Mason-Dixon line when it comes to unofficial conference classifications. And thus ends the Mid Major Report's discussion of all things Atlantic 10 for the season.

With wins over Butler and Valparaiso, Cleveland State has established itself as a legitimate contender in the Horizon League. At 7-0 in league play, the Vikings have won more games this year than in any of the previous six years since joining the conference. Second-year coach Gary Waters added 10 new players to the roster from last year's squad that went 10-21 and defense and rebounding have led them to the top of the league. ... Drake continued its magical season with two more significant victories last week. The Bulldogs won a first-place showdown with Illinois State last Saturday, then followed that up with an overtime thriller at Creighton. Drake has won 16 straight and is ranked No. 22 in the AP poll. ... Lafayette won an NCAA record fifth overtime game on the road last week, topping Navy 103-99 to stay in first place in the Patriot League. The Leopards have won six overtimes games this season, which ties an NCAA record for most OT wins in one season. Dating back to the 2004-05 season, Lafayette has won 10 straight overtime games, which is one short of the NCAA record. ... Wonder if Gregg Marshall wishes he gave Winthrop one more season before taking a step up. His new squad, Wichita State, is just 1-6 in the Missouri Valley and 8-10 overall, while Winthrop appears to be in contention again in the Big South. The Eagles are in first place at 3-1 and own non-conference wins over Georgia Tech, Miami and Old Dominion this season. ... John Pelphrey left behind plenty of talent at South Alabama when he bolted for Arkansas. The Jaguars are 15-3 and have won 11 straight. Their only losses this year are to Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Miami (Ohio). ... Five of Georgia State's eight league games have been decided by two points or less. The Panthers are 1-4 in those games. ... George Mason guard Dre Smith set an NCAA record by going 10-for-10 from three-point range last Saturday at James Madison, but was unable to follow that effort up on Wednesday, when he missed five of six three-pointers against Old Dominion.

It's all over. The Winless Watch Award -- given to the last winless team in the nation -- officially goes to New Jersey Institute of Technology after Grambling's 72-67 win over Texas Southern last Saturday. NJIT carries an 0-20 record into this weekend's game Texas-Pan American. The Highlanders have not come within eight points of any of their first 20 opponents and their average margin of defeat has been 22.9 points.

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