Duquesne takes steps to be 'earners' in post-realignment landscape

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The formation of a new basketball conference that will result from the imminent breakup of the Big East means more conference realignment and some leagues, like the Atlantic 10, could be ripe for plucking.

The so-called Catholic 7 schools -- Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul -- will form a new Big East conference, The Associated Press has reported, and likely will seek to add schools.

There already has been widespread speculation that two Atlantic 10 schools -- Xavier and Butler -- will join the Catholic 7 in the new Big East. There are rumors that St. Louis and Dayton could join them in the near future.

All that begs two questions relevant to Duquesne: Where does Duquesne, a Catholic university in a major market, fit into this mix, and how can the Atlantic 10 survive a raid of four of its best programs?

Duquesne athletic director Greg Amodio has had plenty of people ask him why Duquesne is seldom mentioned as a potential candidate for the Catholic 7, and he said the answer is simple -- the school hasn't given larger conferences a reason to want it, until recently.

"If you are realistic, and we are, it is clear the teams that are being grabbed by other conferences are what I would call earners, teams that generate revenue through appearances in the NCAA tournament and national television," Amodio said. "That's reality, and, as much as I hate to say it, we haven't been that. We just haven't. And it is why you hear names like Xavier, Butler -- they have. That doesn't mean we won't or can't be that because we are working hard to become that and think we have a good plan, but, in recent history, we haven't.

"So I understand why we're not being mentioned and why some of those other schools are. They have earned it because they have proven track record of being earners. That is something we believe we will be and can be and should be, and the other part of it is the Atlantic 10 is a great league and will continue to be that as we have a lot of very strong programs committed to getting better."

Amodio said there is some tangible evidence that Duquesne is serious about trying to become a top program and that is the increased commitment that has been made to men's basketball and the overall athletics program.

Nearly eight years ago, when Amodio got to Duquesne, only one program spent less money on men's basketball and had a lower budget in the Atlantic 10 than Duquesne. Last year, the most recent one where figures are available, there were 14 teams in the Atlantic 10 and Duquesne ranked No. 7 in spending on men's basketball with a budget of nearly $4 million, and Amodio said the Dukes will be somewhere near the middle again this year.

He also noted that Duquesne has spent nearly $12 million in the past six years on upgrades for Palumbo Center and Rooney Field, including new offices for the basketball coaching staffs and a new weight-training facility and upgrades to locker rooms. Another $1 million will be spent this offseason for a face-lift for Palumbo and Rooney.

There also is first-year basketball coach Jim Ferry, who had a rough first season but has a track record of rebuilding teams and taking them to the NCAA tournament.

The Dukes played four games at Consol Energy Center this season, and Amodio would like to continue to play at least that many each year. It is a prime venue, and one that impresses recruits.

The Dukes used charter flights to travel to a few away games this year and will increase the number each year because, he said, that's what big-time programs do.

Amodio said these are things that are done by teams who are "earners" and, while Duquesne is clearly trying to play catch up, the commitment is there by the administration to get it right and transform the program into something other schools will envy.

"I think we have to be focused on that solid core of the Atlantic 10 and how we fit moving forward," Amodio said. "If we only lose two, say we lose Xavier and Butler, we still have a very good group and again, I think we can all make ourselves stronger and more attractive and that has been the focus -- how do we strengthen the Atlantic 10, and we are clearly doing our part by strengthening our program."

The Atlantic 10, which has 16 teams in the basketball league this season, is scheduled to lose two teams after this season because of football -- and the status of a third, also because of football, is up in the air.

Temple is in its final season in the Atlantic 10 basketball league and will join the new conference being formed by the Division I football schools that will leave the Big East. Charlotte, which is starting a football program, will join Conference USA.

Massachusetts recently made the jump from Division I-AA to I-A in football, and the school competes in the Mid-American Conference in football and in the Atlantic 10 in all other sports. There is speculation that Massachusetts could join the new conference being formed by the old Big East football schools.

Amodio said he does not believe the new Big East basketball conference would add more than two or three teams until the league establishes itself.

"There is a school of thought that less mouths to feed initially is the right way to go," Amodio said. "And that with a 10-team league, they can get established, figure out what is realistic in terms of revenue streams and then, perhaps down the road, add a couple of more if 12 teams make sense. It is always easier to add teams than subtract, so from what I understand, the process is going to be slower rather than just jumping from 7 teams to 12 or 14.

"That means we probably only lose two teams -- Xavier and Dayton -- plus the other two who are already leaving [Temple and Charlotte], and that puts us at 12 -- and it is still a very strong 12. So we obviously are aware of what is happening and are being proactive, but we are not panicked by any means."

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Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com and Twitter @paulzeise.


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