35th Anniversary - Feature 2
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The NCAA's decision to grant the Eastern Collegiate Basketball League (ECBL) an automatic tournament berth proved to be the spark that ignited a decade of national prominence and rapid growth for the Atlantic 10.
Only three years after its creation, the eight-team men's basketball conference landed its first team--Villanova--in the NCAA Elite Eight in 1978. Villanova picked up a 103-97 win over future A-10 member La Salle and a narrow 61-60 victory over Indiana, before falling to Duke, 90-72, in the Eastern regional finals. Wildcat senior Keith Herron - who surpassed 2,000 career points in the Eastern Eight Championship game against West Virginia earlier in the season - was named to the NCAA Eastern Regional All-Tournament team.
The following year, the Eastern 8 solidified its place among college basketball's elite when nearly 51,000 fans flocked to the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa., to watch Eastern Eight teams battle for a bid to compete in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. The league closed out the year ranked fourth out of 23 conferences in Men's Basketball Championship attendance, following the ACC (63,000), the Southwest (58,549) and the Big Eight (58,111). Additionally, the Eastern Eight witnessed an 11.4 percent increase in average regular season attendance, surpassed only by the Big Sky Conference (12%).
|Temple's Marilyn Stephens|
|St. Bonaventure Logo, 1927 - 1992|
The early success and popularity prompted growth as the Eastern Eight added St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island in 1979 and 1980, respectively. With the addition of two schools to the league, the Eastern Eight was not only adding tradition-rich programs, but steadily increasing the scope and competition of the league as a whole. Following expansion, the Office of the Commissioner, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa., was instituted in 1981. The league appointed Leland Byrd, who had previously served as President and Executive Director of the league since its inception in 1975, as well as the Director of Athletics at West Virginia, as its first full-time Commissioner.
With Byrd in the driver's seat and the backing of the Eastern Eight membership, the league was altered once again, adding Saint Joseph's and Temple in 1982-83 to replace both Pittsburgh and Villanova. The addition of Saint Joseph's and Temple brought the league membership to 10 schools, thus prompting the league to change its name to the Atlantic 10 Conference.
In an effort to make the league more broad-based, Byrd orchestrated the addition of five women's sports in 1982-83, adding basketball, gymnastics, softball, tennis, and volleyball to the championship slate.
Women's basketball had an immediate impact on the league, and during its inaugural season, Penn State reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. The following year, Temple's 6-2 center/forward Marilyn Stephens earned her second straight A-10 Women's Basketball Player of the Year nod and her second consecutive Big 5 Player of the Year honor. Stephens averaged a double-double of 22.4 points and 12.8 rebounds per game that season and in 1984 became the Conference's first female Kodak All-American.
|Dr. Leland Byrd|
Dr. Byrd provided stability for a new league with new constituents, while at the same time creating new opportunities for student-athletes to compete on the playing field while pursuing a degree of higher learning. With a full-time Commissioner in place and a diverse membership that included 10 institutions, the A-10 was off and running crowning champions in 11-league sponsored sports.
Scroll through and click the icons below for the membership history of each institution.