Atlantic 10 set for its last hand in Atlantic City

Down on the boardwalk, they’re getting ready for the Atlantic 10

tournament’s final championship hand.

After six tournaments, the A-10 is set to cash in its postseason

chips in Atlantic City, N.J. The conference home to NCAA tournament

regulars like Temple and Xavier is playing its last conference

tournament this weekend at Boardwalk Hall. Next year, it moves to

the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Barclays is the state-of-the-art new home of the NBA’s Nets. And

the A-10 has a five-year deal that starts in 2013. The Nets will

begin play there next season.

A-10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade said the tournament

deserved a turn under the bright lights in the No. 1 media market

in the world.

”The move and the location,” she said, ”is really going to

give us an opportunity to take this championship to another

level.”

The A-10 hopes to grow in Brooklyn. Especially after failed

attempts in so many other places.

The league’s signature event had become a bit of a vagabond, in

fact. Atlantic City, never really known as a hoops mecca, had

finally given the tourney an identity, a place to call home, after

it failed at the Spectrum and the Palestra, both in Philadelphia,

and Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio and beyond. Atlantic City’s

proximity to Philadelphia made it an easy trip for Temple and Saint

Joseph’s fans (oh yeah, and La Salle, too), and those teams were

often in title contention.

With Fordham just one state away, in New York, the A-10 seemed

to have a decent niche in this sleepy, Jersey Shore casino town.

But it just never panned out.

Though that never seemed to matter to Temple.

In fact, under coach Fran Dunphy, the Owls have seemingly

headlined A.C. as much as Frank Sinatra once did. Temple has ruled

the resort city like no other team, winning three Atlantic 10

tournaments from 2008-10. Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli has

joked that the Owls are the true basis of the HBO show ”Boardwalk

Empire.”

The No. 21 Owls (24-6) are the No. 1 seed again, and open

tournament play against Massachusetts (21-10) on Friday.

”We’ll to go Brooklyn and see how that is,” Dunphy said. ”It

takes a while to create your brand at different places. I think

Atlantic City was about ready to emerge.”

The Owls won’t get too comfortable in Brooklyn. It indeed is a

time of change in the A-10. The conference is finding a new

postseason home and the Owls are bolting for the Big East after

next season.

Temple’s football program will join the Big East next season and

all other sports will follow the next season. McGlade hoped the

focus this weekend was on the tournament, won last season by

Richmond, and not Temple’s defection to escape.

”The teams that are coming in here, the attention deserves to

be on them to win a championship,” she said. ”We’re really not

here to talk about Temple going to the Big East.”

Win or lose this weekend, the Owls are locks to join the NCAA

field of 68. The A-10 has earned three bids to the NCAA tournament

and sent a team to the round of 16 for the last four years. But

attendance at its conference tourney hasn’t always matched the

national success over the years of its 14 members.

Last season’s final between Richmond and Dayton drew an

announced crowd of 5,602 in a facility that holds 10,500. The

Barclays Center seats about 18,000.

”I don’t think this league,” Martelli said, ”has ever been a

travel league.”

That’s why The Shore made so much sense. The A-10 had A.C. all

to itself.

In New York, the tournament will be held just a cab ride away

from the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. McGlade, of

course, believed The Big Apple was big enough for both tournaments.

She said media could cover the A-10 semifinals on Saturday

afternoon, then make the quick trip to MSG for the Big East

championship game that night.

Sunday would still belong to the Atlantic 10.

Will New York embrace the A-10 and teams like Dayton and St.

Louis? Travel, hotels and expenses could soar through the rim, as

opposed to very affordable rates in Atlantic City. The Press of

Atlantic City, in fact, reports some of the 17,000 casino-hotel

rooms in town can be had for as little as $19 per night in the

waning weeks of winter and in early spring.

Good luck getting lunch for less than $20 in New York.

Also, the advent of sports gambling – though patrons wouldn’t be

able to bet on A-10 games in Atlantic City – also makes the town

that Bruce Springsteen once sang about more of a sports-themed

market.

Sports wagering in town still seems a ways off, but it’s closer

than ever. New Jersey passed and enacted a law legalizing sports

betting, but the federal ban still must be overcome before Atlantic

City casinos and the state’s four horse tracks can start taking

bets on professional and college sporting events.

Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, signed New Jersey’s sports

betting law.

”Whatever allows us to be able to institute sports gambling in

New Jersey in a way that’s legal, I’m in favor of,” he said.

”Whatever approach can get through Congress, fine by me.”

In the proposal, games held within the state would be off limits

to bettors. But if they hit town to bet on the other March

tournaments, chances are, they would have taken in an A-10 game or

two in person.

Jeffrey Vasser is the president of the Atlantic City Convention

and Visitors Authority. He said the tournament will be missed.

”We’re certainly going to look for other events to fill those

dates, even if it’s another conference tournament,” he said. ”We

were doing well. We were growing. People were recognizing A.C. as

the home of the Atlantic 10.”

Well, all hope is not lost. It’s not like the A-10 hasn’t moved

before. Perhaps a return trip isn’t out of the possibility.

After all, Springsteen – in his 1982 song, ”Atlantic City” –

put it best.

”Everything dies, baby that’s a fact. But, maybe everything

that dies someday comes back.”