The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference isn’t trying to keep up with the Joneses, but it is trying to keep up with the Smiths, who are trying to keep up with the Joneses.
It identifies itself as a traditional basketball conference and intends to remain so to the fullest extent possible, which means that the MAAC will have a keen interest in today’s proceedings at the annual NCAA convention in Washington, D.C.
If the so-called Autonomy 5, also known as the Power 5, sounds like a mega-planet inhabited by behemoths far removed from tiny schools like Siena, it’s because it is.
The ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 — along with Notre Dame — supply the NCAA and TV networks with a disproportionate amount of revenue through football and basketball, so as of last August, when they were granted a level of autonomy from the NCAA, they get to write many of their own rules.
One of the changes that the Power 5 wants will address the cost of attendance (COA) and is on the agenda for approval at the convention today.
Pick your cliche, it’ll be either a slam dunk or an end zone spike, but what it means is that schools will be permitted to give stipends, estimated to be between $2,000 and $5,000, to basketball and football players to help meet the COA.
It’s a cousin of the rule the NCAA board approved in 2011 allowing a $2,000 stipend, but was rejected in a vote of all the member schools.
Now that the Power 5 has the necessary political muscle, they can push this rule through, along with some others that will be on the agenda.
This could be a disturbing development overall because it signals a widening gap between the Power 5 and the rest of Division I.
But what a COA rule change would specifically address seems like a fair move to give schools the latitude to help athletes cover some of the incidental expenses of being a college student, like traveling home on holidays. In season, these kids essentially have an unpaid part-time job.
Athletic director John D’Argenio said Siena would have to re-allocate about $60,000-$70,000 to close the gap on COA for its basketball players.
But as a MAAC member, Siena has to do it, and will do so gladly, he said, because this option will keep MAAC schools competitive on the recruiting front against not only similar conferences, but the ones on the next tier up, like the Atlantic-10 and the Big East.
“Those are what I look at, because the gulf is humongous between a MAAC school and a Big Ten school,” he said. “The Big East has already said they’re going to support all those proposals and do them, because they want to keep pace with those [Power 5] leagues. So the A-10 says the same thing, and it keeps trickling down.
“We’re not going to do it to the depth, we’ll do it selectively. This [COA stipend] is certainly important to us because it goes to recruiting and getting student-athletes, but some of the other things people may do, I don’t know that we would get into that.”
The MAAC voted in favor of requiring member schools to provide extra COA money in December.
As of 2011, any school that receives federal financial aid funds has to publish a COA (the reasonable cost to complete a full year as a full-time student) that covers tuition and fees, books and supplies, room and board and personal costs like toiletries and holiday travel.
The published COA establishes the limits for qualified financial aid and student loans available to the student.
Conference commissioner Rich Ensor said the aim was to “insure the coaches can recruit effectively.
“This is consistent with past MAAC requirements to fund basketball at the maximum financial aid level under NCAA legislation for the league’s sport of emphasis,” he said.
So the MAAC will piggyback with the expected Power 5 approval today so that its schools won’t be subject to negative recruiting from other conferences that provide COA stipends. It’s possible that schools in some of the smaller conferences simply don’t have that extra money.
We’re already seeing developments, like the Ed O’Bannion court victory, that chip away at the “pay-for-play” concept that so many find distasteful and philosophically indefensible.
Wherever you stand on that broader issue, the optional COA stipend seems like a reasonable and justifiable bone to throw to the athletes on whose backs the schools are making incomprehensibly tall stacks of money.
And in the case of the MAAC, they’ve decided they have no choice.
D’Argenio and UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson have had preliminary talks about extending the Albany Cup series between the schools, but nothing concrete has been proposed yet.
They’ll meet again in the coming weeks, and D’Argenio said he is optimistic that something could be worked out before the end of the season.
“Mark’s a great guy, I think I’m reasonable to work with, so hopefully, two reasonable people can sit down and figure something out,” he said.