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NIL and the transfer portal are life-changing at MAAC

ATLANTIC CITY – The MAAC tournaments might just be the best internship program in college basketball.

In the age of the transfer portal and name and likeness licensing (NIL) deals, a player or coach who performs well at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall is in line for promotion.

Two years ago, the Saint Peter's men won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship, then made an unprecedented run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Peacocks coach Shaheen Holloway left after that season for Seton Hall, and all of Saint Peter's prominent players transferred.

Last year, Rick Pitino coached the Iona men to the title. Pitino is now the coach at St. John's, and most of Iona's players have transferred to other schools, including Walter Clayton Jr., the 2022-23 MAAC Player of the Year who now shoots jumpers for Florida.

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On Saturday night, Saint-Pierre won the championship again.

Quinnipiac men's coach Tom Pecora said the current system caters to high-level conferences and athletes. He predicted that graduation rates would soon begin to decline across the country.

“I think everything is broken,” Pecora said during last week’s tournaments. “Now you're going to have kids for two years, and if they're good, they're going to move on. If someone comes and offers you $100,000 to go to a great school, I get it. I get it.

ATLANTIC CITY – The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference basketball tournaments have drawn fans here…

But there are real questions about whether the MAAC can thrive as a farm system for the Power Five conferences, the most revenue-generating set of NCAA leagues. MAAC tournaments are scheduled to be held in Atlantic City through 2026. This year's tournaments concluded Saturday. Will last weekend's stars be at new schools next season?

“We're trying to create a solution from a membership perspective to say, 'How can we be proactive in this space and how can we as a conference work together to make sure we're doing the best we can for our student-athletes? “,” said MAAC Commissioner Travis Tellitocci. “This is something, as a member, that we have to think creatively about and also adapt to.”


The transfer portal, launched in 2018, gave athletes more freedom, allowing them to easily move from one school to another. Fairfield senior Caleb Fields, who graduated from Wildwood Catholic Academy in 2018 and was named to the MAAC all-tournament team Saturday night, took advantage.

He spent his first three college seasons at Bowling Green, where he started 25 games and averaged 6.9 points in 2020-21. He redshirted Bowling Green due to a preseason injury during the 2021-22 campaign, then transferred to Fairfield.

“By entering the transfer portal, it gives you the opportunity, No. 1, now with NIL, to be able to make some money and, No. 2, to have the opportunity to play basketball Division I wherever you want,” he said. said. “So it’s a blessing.”

The transfer portal has been a blessing for some teams. Canisius women's coach Sahar Nusseibeh took the opportunity to quickly rebuild the Golden Griffins, who this year reached the MAAC semifinals for the first time since 2009.

Nusseibeh recruited players through the portal she initially recruited out of high school.

“We’ve been able to progress this quickly because of the people who have joined our program,” she said. “I think relationships are everything. I took advantage of the portal with relationships. The portal was wonderful for us.

“If we don't reach them the first time and they realize that where they are isn't right for them, then I'll probably be one of the first people to call them when I see their name on the portal. and saying, “Hey, do you want to come join the Griffs?”

The NCAA adopted NIL following a 2021 Supreme Court decision, along with a number of state laws, lawsuits and other court rulings, forcing it to change. Student-athletes can now profit from their name, image and likeness. They can essentially get paid to play, and MAAC athletes can benefit from that.

The Fairfield women entered this year's tournament ranked 25th in the Associated Press Top 25 and beat Niagara in overtime for the MAAC championship on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament. The more a team wins, the more NIL opportunities they have.

“You hope it helps our student-athletes move forward individually and collectively,” Fairfield coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis said of the attention the national rankings have brought to the Stags.

ATLANTIC CITY – Fairfield University women's basketball coach Carly Thibault-DuDonis has been chosen…

The haves and the have-nots?

But for all the positive aspects of NIL, many college athletes fear that these agreements and the transfer portal could lead to a system of haves and have-nots.

How can a MAAC school, such as Marist, match the NIL power of a Big 10 or Southeastern Conference school? Players like Clayton may play for a MAAC school for a season or two before moving on to a Power Five college.

“If you recruit a student-athlete at the Power Five level or the Group of Five level,” Tellitocci said, “you look at the MAAC, and you see student-athletes competing all year long and you basically have a ratio of recognition on them, as opposed to a freshman who comes straight from high school as a senior.

The Group of Five includes leagues that are not part of the Power Five but play football at the highest level.

The MAAC will expand from 11 to 13 teams in the fall when Merrimack and Sacred Heart join. When it comes to NIL and the transfer portal, Tellitocci said there is strength in numbers.

“It's about trying to bring our 11, soon to be 13, schools together and say, 'How are we going to tackle this collectively as a whole and help each other through this difficult process?' “, did he declare. “I'm not against student-athletes profiting off their image and likeness, but, again, I think it comes down to the fact that we have to be creative and try to find solutions and how to retain talent at the within the MAAC.” €

The only thing that seems certain when it comes to the MAAC and college basketball is that more changes are coming.

“This whole transfer portal, the NIL stuff that's going on, man, it's like every day you learn something new,” Iona men's coach Tobin Anderson said. “Recruiting has changed. Building a list has completely changed… and you have to adapt to it. I'm learning to adapt to it. I'm learning to do things.

Contact Patrick Mulranen: 609-272-7217

X (Twitter) @ACPressMulranen

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