Dor Saar of the University of Maine drives to the basket past Kari Brekke of the University of New Hampshire during Wednesday's America East quarterfinal at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Credit: Pete Warner

As a mid-major conference in men’s basketball, America East has experienced its memorable moments. The most recent was in 2018 when the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, became the first No. 16 seed in NCAA men’s tournament history to oust a No. 1 — Virginia — in the opening round.

Building on such successes is the goal of several recommendations recently adopted by the conference to strengthen individual programs and elevate the league’s profile.

The most noteworthy will require member schools to offer “cost of attendance” by the start of the 2020-21 season.

While traditional athletic scholarships have covered tuition, room and board, and textbooks, an NCAA policy established in 2015 made student-athletes receiving a full scholarship also eligible for additional funds to cover other costs related to attending school.

UMaine will begin providing that additional money next year.

“It’s pretty clear when you look across the landscape of Division I that as far as the NCAA is concerned, in a conference like America East, a nonfootball conference, that reputations are being made in men’s basketball,” University of Maine Athletic Director Ken Ralph said.

“If you look at the way revenue comes in from the NCAA, it’s really predicated on the success conference members have in men’s basketball, so America East is just making sure everyone is putting forth the effort,” he said.

Schools from major Division I conferences that derive greater revenue from television contracts and football bowl appearances have met the cost of attendance. Schools competing in mid- and low-major leagues such as America East have varied in their adoption of the optional provision.

America East’s recommendation to meet the full cost of attendance for men’s basketball seeks to enable its members to compete more equitably with other mid-major schools and conferences in what they offer for athletic scholarships.

Ralph said America East schools like UMaine have been phasing in the cost of attendance in coordination with additional aid for scholarship student-athletes to attend summer school.

“We’ll be fully compliant with America East by the ’21 season,” he said. “Some schools did the cost of attendance first and didn’t do the summer school, some did summer school but didn’t do the cost of attendance. We went the summer school route first.

“We have 204 athletes taking classes this summer, and 75 to 80 percent are scholarship athletes, so we have a pretty significant investment in summer school,” Ralph said.

The cost of attendance figure varies from school to school and is calculated by taking the total cost to attend college and subtracting the amount covered by an athletic scholarship.

UMaine’s cost of attendance is $2,200 per scholarship each year.

“We’ve known the cost of attendance was coming down the pike,” Ralph said. “We wanted to get the summer school part done first because we could support more of our programs with that, and now we’ll be phasing in the cost of attendance for basketball.”

With 13 scholarships for men’s basketball and 15 for women’s basketball at UMaine, the cost of attendance for those programs will total approximately $60,000 each year.

“[America East is] saying you just have to do it for men’s basketball, but honestly when you’re thinking about Title IX and gender equity-related concerns, you better be providing it for women’s basketball as well,” Ralph said.

UMaine has 210 total athletic scholarship equivalencies, but Ralph said there are no plans to provide cost of attendance for all sports. That would cost the department approximately $462,000 annually.

“We would love to, but in all honesty the money is not going to present itself easily to do the entire department,” Ralph said.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...