How much will stipends affect college recruiting?
CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) An athlete has two offers to decide where to play for the next four years. One comes with considerably more cash than the other.
It only sounds like free agency.
These days, it's college recruiting.
A new stipend that scholarship athletes are receiving to pay for some of the things that their scholarship doesn't cover could be a game changer for college sports, especially since some believe that recruits could wind up making decisions based on which institution can put the most cash in their pocket.
''Money is a big thing in everybody's lives, so when you see money, people are going to think, `Well, this school is offering $5,000 more. If it comes down to this and I can't decide, I'm going to take the $5,000 more,''' said Devin Bush Sr., the coach at Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines, Florida.
At schools like Alabama and Florida State, athletes will get between $4,500 and $6,000 a year. Some schools who compete against the Crimson Tide and Seminoles in the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences won't come anywhere near that. Some schools outside of the five most powerful conferences won't offer the stipend at all.
The amounts are based on numbers calculated by each school's financial aid office to cover expenses not already factored into scholarship awards and often vary widely among players in the same locker rooms based on how far they live from school.
''On a scale of one to 10, I'll say it's a five,'' Cavin Ridley, a highly recruited wide receiver from Deerfield Beach High in Florida, said when asked how much the stipend number will matter to him. ''It's not something I really care about. I'm going to be taken care of, regardless, while I'm in college. It'll help with the little things.''
Generally, athletes who live far from their schools will get more than those who choose colleges in or near their hometowns.
''The more prominent schools have a lot to offer,'' said Roger Harriott, the coach at national power St. Thomas Aquinas High in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. ''And they sell that.''
Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya will receive more than most of his Hurricanes teammates, since his home is California and the figure accounts for the expense he'll incur flying back and forth across the country.
Kaaya sees both sides of the issue, especially since he had to prepare a case - it was just homework, not his actual personal opinion - against cost of attendance for a class project in summer school a couple months ago.
''For the guys who come from out of state and can't afford plane tickets, all the things that you need outside of the facility, it works,'' Kaaya said. ''I've heard it's a huge issue with basketball right now, guys shopping around, trying to get the most money in some cases. I don't think it's to the point where it's free agency, I don't think it will get to that point, but it does go into a gray area.''
A very gray area. In all, 22 of 25 recruits from the South Florida area who were asked about the issue by the AP said schools had used disparities in the cost-of-attendance number as part of their sales pitch.
However, Alabama's Nick Saban insisted it's not part of how his team woos prospects.
''We don't talk to players about this,'' Saban said. ''We talk about the value that we create in personal development, in the success that we've had with our players academically and their opportunity to develop a career off the field if they attend the University of Alabama. ... I think it's to improve the quality of the student-athlete's life, not to be used as a recruiting tool.''
At the Atlantic Coast Conference media days earlier this summer, most players who were asked about cost of attendance seemed unsure of how it would work. But when asked how they would spend the extra money, the majority cited basics like food and rent - not exactly luxuries.
''Sometimes toward the end of the month, we're kind of low on our money,'' Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo said. ''I think it's good just to have that sense of security.''
Many coaches cringe at the free agency comparison, but it's hard not to draw the parallel.
Signing days for football and basketball in the coming months will almost certainly show how much this money talks.
''I don't think that's the reason kids are going to make decisions on where they're going to go to school, I don't think it going to be based on a couple thousand dollars,'' said North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora, whose school's cost-of-attendance number is among the lowest in the ACC. ''I think it's going to be based or should be based on that this is going to be a lifetime decision.''