Virginia Commonwealth guard Melvin Johnson (32) and forward Michael Gilmore celebrate after winning an NCAA college basketball game against Richmond in the quarterfinal round of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament in New York, Friday, March 13, 2015. Vi
Mary Altaffer
March 13, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) At a time of sweeping change in college sports, when the most powerful football conferences are setting a new course for the NCAA, the Atlantic 10 is focused on remaining the same.

The conference built on playing big-time basketball plans to stay that way, undeterred by the rising cost of doing business.

''As long as our presidents and our universities continue to put the resources in and support basketball at the highest level, I think you'll see we'll continue to be competitive,'' George Washington athletic director Patrick Nero said.

The A-10 is in the middle of a five-day run in Brooklyn. The conference tournament heated up Thursday with top-seeded Davidson beating La Salle on a buzzer-beater and VCU topping rival Richmond 70-67 in an intense game that had Barclays Center jumping.

The conference is headed toward another selection Sunday when it will send multiple teams to the NCAA Tournament. Not quite as many as last year's six, but half that is likely.

Commissioner Bernadette McGlade steered the A-10 through conference realignment, with recent additions such as Davidson and VCU keeping the league among the best in college basketball. The A-10 has its tournament sites and television deals locked up through the 2020-21 season.

The next challenge will be adjusting to the NCAA's restructuring. The five wealthiest conferences - the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and Southeastern Conference - now have the ability to make rules regarding how student-athletes can be compensated.

The Big Five's first move was to increase the value of a scholarship for all athletes to include full cost of attendance beyond tuition, room and board and books.

''We had talked about it a year in advance,'' McGlade said this week between games at Barclays Center.

The autonomy legislation passed was permissive, so conferences outside the Big Five are not forced to pay the extra funds. But to avoid putting its teams at a competitive disadvantage, the Atlantic 10 schools pledged to keep up with those in FBS when it comes to men's and women's basketball.

''I think what might happen is there might be degrees of separation, but I don't believe anybody behind us is going to catch up in the new governance,'' St. Joseph's athletic director Don Julia said. ''If we're anywhere from one to seven in the basketball world, we're going to be one to seven. Period. I don't see that changing.''

McGlade said the reality is nothing has changed for the Atlantic 10, other than the amount its schools will have to pay in basketball scholarships. The A-10 will maximize scholarship funding in basketball and allow its members to determine how it funds the rest of its sports.

''It's having your resources and strategically spending your resources so that you can leverage the highest success - both institutionally and as a conference,'' McGlade said.

Without access to the billions of dollars generated by big-time college football - Massachusetts is the only Atlantic 10 member that plays in FBS - A-10 athletic programs have less to spend than schools in FBS.

''A lot of our schools, those resources do come from institutional support,'' Nero said.

Athletic budgets in the Atlantic 10 range from $10-$30 million annually - or about half of Mississippi State's budget, the smallest in the SEC West.

But not footing the bill for big-time football - which eats up much of the money it brings in - helps Atlantic 10 schools keep up with the Big Five in basketball, Nero said.

''Especially in basketball, it doesn't always necessarily mean the more you spend the more your opportunity is to win,'' Nero said. ''We've never matched a lot of the Big Five conferences in the amount of money we've spent in basketball, but we've always been competitive. Over the last two years there's been years we've have more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the Pac 12. Had more teams in the NCAA Tournament than the ACC. Last year we had double than the Big East did.''

To stay competitive with those conferences, the Atlantic 10 has made a commitment to play them.

''If everybody does it collectively, then everybody gets credit,'' McGlade said.

To that end, McGlade negotiated a deal with the ACC and Barclays Center that put the ACC tournament in Brooklyn for in 2017 and '18. In return, the ACC agreed to play a doubleheader with the A-10 at Barclays during the next three seasons. After stops at Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh, the A-10 tournament will return to Barclays for three years starting in 2019.

''I think a lot of people would have said a few years ago, `Not sure the A-10 is going to survive this,''' Nero said. "And we're as good as we've ever been.''

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