Xavier's new AD will take Muskies to new league

CINCINNATI (AP) - Greg Christopher didn't even pause when Xavier asked if he had any interest in becoming director of athletics. Not many jobs out there like this one.

The Musketeers are moving into a new Big East that's under reconstruction, a step up for a school that had developed one of the nation's top basketball programs in the Atlantic 10. Christopher, who leaves the same job at Bowling Green, will get to rare opportunity to help mold an entirely new league.

"It's a conference out of a building box, literally starting from scratch," Christopher said on Tuesday. "So it's going to be a dynamic year in a lot of ways."

He's got a lot to learn, and fast.

Xavier and Butler are leaving the Atlantic 10 to join seven Big East Catholic schools and Creighton in forming a reconfigured league that will start play in the fall. It's a big step up for the Musketeers, who developed a prominent basketball program after moving from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to the A-10 in 1995.

The seven Big East schools -- Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, Marquette and DePaul -- reached an agreement to leave the league and take the name with them. Xavier, Butler and Creighton were added last week, giving the league 10 teams for its initial season.

There are a lot of decisions to be made, which made Xavier's job more attractive. It's not often that an athletics director gets to work on something so new.

"No doubt this year is going to be distinctive, going to be unique," Christopher said. "Not only do I have to get adjusted and acclimated, build relationships and build trust with people here, but you've got the entire second apparatus out there in this brand new conference that is literally starting from scratch."

The Musketeers went 17-13 this season with an inexperienced lineup -- no returning starters -- and a short-handed roster. Xavier had been one of only eight teams to reach the NCAA tournament each of the last seven seasons, a streak that ended when they were left out.

They return most of their team for their first year in the Big East, losing forward Travis Taylor (11.8 points per game, 9 rebounds), forward Jeff Robinson (6.9 points, 4.9 rebounds) and reserve guard Brad Redford (7.4 points).

Christopher, who also was an associate athletics director at Purdue, has already talked to coach Chris Mack about the schedule for next season. Xavier has developed a successful formula, playing one of the nation's toughest nonconference schedules leading into the A-10 season. Now, they'll have to work it with the Big East.

"It is a balancing act," Christopher said. "You've got to have a schedule that's strong enough that it doesn't tip too far one way, and you don't want it to be so far to the other side that your team is beat up at the end of the season."

Part of his job is to keep Xavier's graduation rate for athletes -- 97 percent most recently -- among the highest in the country.

"I suspect there's not a whole lot of room for improvement for that," said the Rev. Michael Graham, Xavier's president. "But I do know we're going to have to run as fast as we can, just like Alice in Wonderland, just to stay in place."

Christopher first heard of the job opening from Mike Bobinski, who is leaving for the job at Georgia Tech. Bobinski called him a few weeks ago to see if he had any interest. The two knew each other from serving on several basketball committees.

Christopher held his thumb and index finger less than an inch apart to characterize his response.

"It took me about that long to say, `Yes, absolutely,"' he said.

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