After the Atlantic 10 brought in Davidson to join the league in 2014, the dust had finally settled after three straight years of conference realignment changed the landscape of the conference. The A 10 lost Butler and Xavier to the Big East, Charlotte to Conference USA and Temple to the American Athletic Conference but brought in George Mason from the Colonial and Davidson from the Southern Conference. The league now sat at 14 teams and decided to make one more change.
They increased the conference season from 16 to 18 games. This move has brought both positive and negative effects to each team and to the league as a whole.
With the longer conference season, there are more chances for the conference to be on national television. In fact, the Atlantic 10 announced that a record 107 conference games will be televised on national television this upcoming season. More money is staying in the conference and fans across the country are given a chance to watch these teams that they wouldn't normally be able to see. This move also falls in line with conferences like the AAC, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, PAC 12, SEC and Big East who all have 18 game conference schedules.
The biggest downside to the longer schedule is that it takes away two non-conference games from each team's schedule. Teams have less control over the quality of their schedule and may not be able to add a match-up they want because all the spots are filled. There is also uncertainty on which teams you will play in conference with those added games.
To make this schedule work, each team plays every team in the league once and play five teams in the league twice both home and away. These five teams, also known as a team's pod, are chosen based on a few factors, with the main one being geography in relation to each team. The league tries to make the pods as balanced as they can but some teams have easier schedules than others.
When it comes to the Atlantic 10, it is one of the most diverse conferences in the country in terms of RPI. Last year, the conference had three teams in the top 50, eight teams in the top 100, but also had four teams with an RPI above 200. The league is very top and bottom heavy with just two teams between 100-199 in the RPI.
Every year when the conference schedules are released, the question gets asked, would you rather have an easier schedule through conference or play the better teams in your conference to help your overall RPI? As such, we will take a look at how everything is set to breakdown in schedule difficulty.
Below is a table comparing this year's upcoming pod schedule for each of the 14 teams in the Atlantic 10. Please note that the information below is based on last season and some teams are projected to be better while others are expected to drop off so come mid-season these numbers may change.
Notes on the Pairings:
- The middle of the pack is pretty consistent in terms of RPI as most of the teams have an average pod RPI between 107-134.
- The Atlantic 10 was 1 of 3 conferences (AAC and Mountain West) with at least three teams with RPI's below 45 and three teams with RPI's above 221.
- Dayton had the easiest pod last year playing 3 of the 4 teams with an RPI above 200 and had a pod average RPI of 189. This year the conference replaced Fordham with Rhode Island which dramatically helps their average by 35.
To reiterate the question listed above, would you rather have an easier conference schedule or play games against better teams to help your overall RPI? It is a difficult question to answer because each team and situation is different but most coaches will lean towards a tougher schedule to boost their RPI. Using the table above, it is clear that there are teams that have a more favorable schedule come March.
Davidson, George Washington, Richmond and VCU are all in a pod together this upcoming season, which gives each of these teams six games against top 100 RPI teams. All four of these programs benefit from the fact that they are located relatively close to one another. Dayton, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Saint Bonaventure have fewer chances for against those better teams in part because they don't have many teams locally. Rhode Island and UMass are sitting alone in the New England area while Dayton and Saint Louis are by themselves geographically out west. Saint Bonaventure is located in western New York and sits basically by itself.
When teams are on the bubble, the committee seems to look at those top 50-100 wins and those losses to teams below the 200 mark. The games between Dayton-Rhode Island, Rhode Island-UMass, UMass-St. Bonaventure and Dayton-Saint Bonaventure could be elimination games for the NCAA tournament.
On the other side of that argument, Dayton, Rhode Island, UMass and Saint Bonaventure have easier schedules than the rest of the conference and would have an easier road to finishing near the top of the conference. So which scenario would you rather have?
To help every team have an equally challenging schedule, the league might want to revamp their selection process on how they choose pods or at the very least change it up every other year. George Mason, Duquesne and Fordham have extremely tough pods that could of been evened out with other teams in the league. Scheduling is not easy and the league for the most part makes everything as equal as they can as they work in more factors than we realize but it is something worth looking into.
So we want you to tell us what you think. Would you want your team to have more games against the top of the conference or an easier road to have a chance to win the conference? Vote in the poll below and tell us what you think in the comments.