Your scribe recently got to chat extensively with MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor on a variety of topics.
So, let's touch on some of the league's "hot topics."
- THE MAAC'S POST-SEASON TOURNAMENT
Everything worked well in Springfield, Mass., in the event's second season there. Minor on-sight issues (primarily the scoreboard) from the first year were corrected. New programs (primarily a connection with the Jimmy Fund) were in place. Local sponsorship sales were almost double over a year ago. The conference enjoys the exposure of the event's connection with the James Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.
Everything went well except for actual attendance. Figures released by the MAAC showed that total attendance for this season's tournament was 14,394. That's not only down from the 16,560 that was considered a mediocre turnout last season, but is the all-time low since the league began keeping attendance figures in 1990.
"We reached our target numbers in terms of ticket sales from our member schools," said Ensor. "But, we did not get the local support we wanted. Part of that was that the local high school sectional tournaments were on going at the same time as our event, and that drew the casual fan away from our tournament."
Financially, though, the league has guarantees from the community and its bottom line remained at least as strong, if not moreso, than for any other previous tournament.
The event's third year of three-year contract will be next season, and Ensor said definitively that the event will be back in Springfield a year from now.
"The league administrators liked the neutral setting," added Ensor. "Personally, I'd like to find a setting that resulted in bigger crowds. And, that might even be Sprinfield. But, we've had some changes in school administors and athletic directors. We'll have to see what happens (at future meetings)."
FUTURE MAAC TOURNAMENTS
Bid specification notices (what the league requires from sites that will bid for future events) go out in April, said Ensor. The next meeting of league presidents takes place in late May, at which time league administrators could both begin discussing future sites or, even, make a decision. The greater likelihood, though, is that a decision on the tournament's future setting will be made at the subsequent meeting of league presidents in December.
Ensor said he expects the possibility of interest from Springfield in extending the current contract, and from other neutral sites, including casino sites with arenas in Atlantic City and Mohegan Sun (Uncasville, Ct.), the Meadowlands, and the Mohegan Sun Arena (not a casino-connected facility) in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.
The Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., a non-neutral court site (it's Siena's home for games), has already expressed an interet in renewing its ties with the event. Ensor also said he believes the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Ct., which has hosted the event in the past, to also get involved in the process.
An all-time most six men's teams are participating in national post-season tournaments. Iona is in the NCAA's, Niagara in the NIT and the CIT field includes Fairfield, Rider, Canisius and Loyola.
In addition, the Marist women's team will also participate in the NCAA's and the Iona women will be in the NIT. And, the women's team from Quinnipiac, which joins the MAAC next season, also earned a trip to the NCAA's by virtue of winning the Northeast Conference (NEC) tournament.
"That's a big thing ... it's great exposure for our league," said Ensor. "We're very pleased by having six men's teams in post-season play. That just confirms what everyone was saying about our league this year, that we had a lot of real good teams without having one real standout."
The departure of Loyola and addition of Quinnipiac and Monmouth for next season will have the MAAC at 11 members for 2013-14. The league had also considered Wagner and Bryant, according to sources (not Ensor), but opted not to add a 12th team for the upcoming season.
"Quinnipiac and Monmouth have both made commitments to athletics, and each's new facility is better than anything any league member not playing in an arena (Siena and Fairfield) has for a home court," said Ensor.
"And, we're still in an expansion mode. I think we'll get up to 12 teams in the next couple of years. For now, though, we'll see how things roll down by all the Big East transition and go from there."
Ensor said he didn't expect additional departures from current league members, although next year's move to 11 league members gives the MAAC a bit of a just-in-case cushion.
Rumors floated by at least two national-level college basketball writers contend that the Atlantic 10 might reach out to Siena as an option to replace some of its departing current members.
"I wouldn't rule anything out, but nothing is pending," said Ensor. "People (who float the rumors) don't understand the financial impact on a school moving to that level. It's not only mind-boggling, but it takes your breath away in some ways. That said, any movement by schools is a business decision. Each institution has to evaluate it. All there is now, though, is just a lot of speculation."
It's not only a considerable expense to move from the MAAC to the spending levels required to compete in the A-10 (Siena's athletic budget, according to estimates, would have to be more than doubled to even get into the lower range of current league members), but any movement by MAAC members would also incur a departure fee.
Ensor said that any current member that departs with less than a year's notice would owe the MAAC $1 million, a departure with a year's notice would require a $500,000 departure fee, while programs providing two years' notice are required to pay a $250,000 exit fee.