The Virginian-Pilot
                             THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT 
              Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: Friday, February 10, 1995              TAG: 9502100647
SECTION: SPORTS                   PAGE: C2   EDITION: FINAL 
                                             LENGTH: Medium:   74 lines


Virginia Tech, casting its lot with the best option for its basketball program, was welcomed into the Atlantic 10 conference Thursday along with the University of Dayton and La Salle for next season.

Earlier in the day, Virginia Commonwealth announced that it would join the Colonial Athletic Association, also for the 1995-96 season.

Both Virginia Tech and VCU last week reached $1 million-plus settlements with the Metro Conference, which expelled the two schools in order to merge with Houston and most of the Great Midwest Conference.

The Colonial aggressively courted both schools. But Virginia Tech's goal is to get into the Big East - the Hokies already play football in that conference - and Virginia Tech officials believe entry into the Atlantic 10 will help facilitate that mission.

``It came down to what was the best fit for Virginia Tech, particularly for men's and women's basketball,'' athletic director Dave Braine said. ``When you look at the student body, the basic geographic location of our out-of-state students is the Northeast. And the fact that we already have a Northeast identity, it just felt like a better fit.''

Virginia Tech, Dayton, the only school from the Great Midwest not invited into the new merged league, and La Salle, which is leaving the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, boost the Atlantic 10's membership to 12 schools.

But conference commissioner Linda Bruno said the league will retain the name Atlantic 10. For basketball, it will split into two six-team divisions, the breakdown of which will be determined soon.

``This is a proud day in our history,'' Bruno said. ``I think we're going to get much better at everything we do.''

The Atlantic 10 also recently added Fordham and Xavier to replace West Virginia and Rutgers, which are leaving for the Big East. The other members are Temple, Massachusetts, St. Joseph's, Duquesne, St. Bonaventure, George Washington and Rhode Island.

Virginia Tech men's basketball coach Bill Foster, who lobbied Braine for the Atlantic 10 over the Colonial, said, ``I'm glad we finally know where we're going to be. The uncertainty has been a real distraction for the team, and it hasn't been good for recruiting. There are a lot of kids we talked to who really wouldn't get serious about visiting Virginia Tech until we knew what league we were going to be in.

``I think our kids are excited about playing in that league, against a lot of teams we've never played much before.''

The Hokies played Xavier this season and last, and have played 60 games in their history against George Washington, but not since the 1991-92 season. Aside from those two schools, however, the Hokies have not played one of their new league-mates since they met Temple in the 1984-85 season. Tech is 41-41 overall against its new conference mates.

Foster said the move from the Metro to the Atlantic 10 is a step up in the quality of basketball. Massachusetts has been the nation's top-ranked team this season and Temple in the last decade has made strong runs in the NCAA tournament.

``If you go back and look at TV exposure and the number of teams in the playoffs and in the top 20 the last five years, they've had more than (the Metro) has had,'' Foster said. ``Who knows what the next five will bring? But everything considered, I think things worked out real well for Virginia Tech.''

In joining the Colonial, VCU brings the membership to nine schools, five others of which are in Virginia - Old Dominion, James Madison, William and Mary, Richmond and George Mason.

VCU athletic director Richard Sander called the league ``one of the finest conferences in the country for baseball, field hockey and soccer.

``There are benefits for both the student-athletes and the fans. We look forward to enhanced state rivalries in all sports - primarily basketball - and playing in our own backyard will give our fans a great opportunity to support our conference play.'' by CNB