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Atlantic 10 positioned to survive upheaval

It's hard to look at the numbers and not conclude the system's run amok. What do you mean Nick Saban's new contract extension averages $5.62 million a season to coach football at national champion Alabama? Or Mack Brown gets $5.2 million at Texas? Or Bob Stoops receives $4.875 million at Oklahoma?

It can't be true, can it, that the Tide is now paying $950,000 a year for defensive coordinator Kirby Smart? Almost a million dollars a year for a college coordinator? Is this a joke?

It's no joke. It might even be justified. College football revenues remain a raging stream. Television rights fees rise. The big players draw more fans for a spring game than some minor institutions -- when we're talking actual in-house attendance -- draw the entire regular season. Winning seasons oil the hinges on the wall safes of wealthy alums.

Football is the reason that big conferences with automatic Bowl Championship Series (BCS) bids have gone crazy about expansion. Football -- not basketball -- is why Syracuse left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league predominantly known for its hoops. Temple removed its football team from the Mid-American Conference and its other sports from the Atlantic 10 so it can play football in the Big East. Charlotte just announced it's leaving the A-10 for Conference USA, and it's moving because C-USA has football and the A-10 doesn't. Never mind that Charlotte doesn't yet have a football team. It will in 2013, and it's betting -- perhaps wishfully -- that it's new conference will remain a player in the restructuring world of college football.

The Atlantic 10 long ago identified the threat football represented to its basketball-based membership. It's been formulating a plan of action since 2008, when Bernadette McGlade became conference commissioner. The loss of Temple to the Big East demanded a rapid response, and the A-10 answered by making mid-major basketball power Butler an all-sports member in 2013. Reports say that two other elite mid-major programs -- Virginia Commonwealth and George Mason of the Colonial Athletic Association -- are on the A-10's radar.

"Our conference is driven by our men's basketball and the revenues we realize as a result of the NCAA Tournament," said St. Bonaventure athletic director Steve Watson. "Butler has historically and traditionally been an NCAA team. They've gotten there by winning their conference championship, but they've also gotten at-large bids. To have another school of that caliber in our conference is nothing but positive for us."

The shifts suit all involved. Temple wanted back in the Big East in the worst way and realized its goal by legitimizing its football program through increased financial commitment. Charlotte never felt at home in the Atlantic 10, not with the likes of North Carolina, Duke, Wake Forest and even Davidson capturing the state's basketball attention.

In addition, Charlotte sought more traditional rivalries, and adding football to its athletic mix opened the door to C-USA and creates matchups with institutions such as East Carolina and Marshall.

As for basketball-based Butler, the Bulldogs move from the two-bids-at-best Horizon League to an A-10 Conference that placed four teams in last year's NCAA Tournament.

Bona men's basketball coach Mark Schmidt wouldn't go as far as saying the A-10's better off with Butler than Temple, but it certainly hasn't been weakened by the change. He said he's sure people -- and potential recruits -- took notice of the news.

Butler's become the elite mid-major program. The Bulldogs went to the national title game in 2010 (a heartbreaking loss to Duke) and 2011 (an emphatic defeat administered by Connecticut). The tradeoff also gives the Atlantic 10 a footprint in Indianapolis while it also maintains a strong Philadelphia presence with Saint Joseph's and La Salle. The timing works, too, since the A-10 will be negotiating new media rights fees this summer.

"We looked at strategically what we were trying to do membership-wise as a conference,"

Watson said. "We've been looking at our membership as a whole for years. We've been talking about membership for the last few years and what schools would be a good fit for our conference."

"It's great for the league to bring in a school of this caliber. Everybody knows about (Butler) basketball but they're great in their other sports programs as well."

The A-10 was on the ball. Adding Butler keeps strong a conference where basketball remains the primary focus.


Nicholson stock rose

At midseason the NBA draft stock of Bona senior center Andrew Nicholson was fading. Projections had him going late in the second round, if he went at all. But that dynamic finishing stretch to his career, capped by a dominant performance against Xavier in the A-10 title game, put Nicholson on the fast track. He's now projected to go in the first round, anywhere from 23rd to 30th.

"Who knows until he gets drafted?" Schmidt said. "But supposedly he's doing well with workouts." Schmidt said that Nicholson, a physics major, has been working out for NBA teams in addition to finishing up his degree.

"It's been difficult on him," Schmidt said. "It's not the easiest major."