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