While much of the talk surrounding conference realignment in college sports has been about how the Big East Conference has come out worse for wear than others, the Atlantic 10 Conference can’t claim it has come out unchanged either.
This season marks the last time Temple competes in the A-10 for volleyball before the university makes its all-sports move to the Big East in 2013. It also marks the first A-10 season for Virginia Commonwealth University and Butler.
“It was really interesting because I was actually on vacation when I found out that we were moving,” VCU coach James Finley said. “The shocker was that we did it this year.”
Both Finley and Butler coach Sharon Clark said the biggest challenges were logistics, such as rearranging their schedules and planning their trips against their new conference opponents, and preparing for teams they have rarely, if ever, faced before.
“For training your team you don’t know the style of play,” Finley said. “You’re watching videos, you’re trying to prepare that way, but you don’t have any experience to draw from.”
As Temple hits the home stretch of its conference season, the Owls get to face both programs, likely the only time they will do so for many years. On Oct. 26, Temple lost 3-0 to the Rams and will face the Bulldogs on Sunday, Nov. 4.
For Temple coach Bakeer Ganes and his Owls, the challenge is something they have time to prepare for. A key will be in recruiting higher quality talent, something Butler and VCU didn’t have time to do when they moved to the A-10 this summer, Ganes said.
“I think the main difference is probably in recruiting,” Ganes said. “I think that was probably the biggest advantage we had compared to Butler and VCU.”
For Butler and VCU, the change of scenery also equals an increased opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament. Last season the Colonial Athletic Association and Horizon League sent one team each to the big dance, as did the A-10. But the A-10 has a history of sending more than one team a year, something the other two conferences can’t claim usually.
“I just told [the team] that we were very excited as a coaching staff and as a university, because we felt like it was a move up for our sport specifically, and that we were going to have better competition, which our team really likes,” Finley said.
A big change for the coaches who watch their rivals leave is losing the competition they bonded over.
“I have a lot of great friends who are coaches in the CAA, and we have rivalries, a lot of strong competition, and a lot of things that have happened over the eight years that I’ve been here and they were really sad to lose the competition,” Finley said.
Ganes said other A-10 coaches reached out to Temple to offer their support of Temple’s move.
“[Xavier coach Mike Johnson] actually said he’s glad that we’re leaving, and that was before we beat them,” Ganes said jokingly.
“The volleyball community is tight,” Ganes added.
The biggest difference for all the programs changing scenery will be the uptick in competition, coaches said.
“I think the top of the [A-10] conference is stronger than the CAA was, and then the middle of the conference is very similar where you have to prepare every week,” Finley said. “If you don’t show up, something’s not clicking, you’re probably going to lose, which we have found out.”
“It’s size and physicality, that’s the main difference between a [Bowl Championship Subdivision] conference team and a non-BCS conference team,” Ganes said. “I think in the A-10, we have kind of proven it more or less, that you can get by without size if you know how to play together and you play smart. I think that will be much, much harder in the Big East.”
The best advice Clark could give, going through the situation herself, is to enjoy each moment and take it one day at a time. For Finley, he hopes Temple embraces the new challenge.
“I think the biggest thing is to make sure that you take the emotional piece about the opportunity to create new rivalries, the opportunity to go to new places, the opportunity to forge new competition,” Finley said.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @jakeadams520.