Commissioner Rich Ensor and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference became the latest in a multitude of conferences impacted by realignment in late August when Loyola (MD) announced its move to the Patriot League at the start of the 2013-14 school year.
Speculation has come about throughout the northeast as to who the MAAC might consider for a future member. When asked, Ensor said he does not believe that the MAAC will have a 10th member for the 2013-14 season.
“I think it’s premature, frankly,” Ensor said. “I wouldn’t say we are not open to it but as with all things it depends who and when.”
“All conferences now have exit bylaws, so it would be highly unlikely that anybody would be able to move that quickly to even accept a membership if one was offered. I don’t see anything for next year, frankly.”
No schools have contacted the MAAC about joining, but Ensor said that the process of a school reaching out to the conference would be more discrete.
“It’s kind of like a kabuki dance,” Ensor said. “I’ve seen it happen both ways, there’s really no magic to it. Everybody has a short list of schools they’d like to be associated with and a short list of schools that they don’t necessarily want to be associated with. There’s always conversations taking place amongst athletic administrators and sometimes Presidents so it can come from a lot of different directions.”
“It’s not that formal a process, at some point it does become formal usually after some informal discussions.”
As of now, the MAAC is planning to have nine full members for the 2013-14 season.
“Historically in the MAAC we’ve been as high as 12 and as low as 8 in terms of members,” Ensor said. “We’ve played at configurations of 8, 9, 10 and 12 in my tenure. So they’re all options that we feel comfortable with.”
The only number that Ensor said he would be uncomfortable with is below eight members. NCAA bylaws dictate that in order to be eligible for an automatic bid a conference must have seven members who have been part of the conference for six years.
A nine-member MAAC would have an impact not only on the conference tournament, where Ensor said there would be only an 8 versus 9 opening day game instead of a doubleheader, but it would also impact how the conference schedule is constructed.
“It can take a lot of different forms and we’ll have to see how the membership feels about it. We have to decide if we want to keep the December weekend for men’s scheduling for instance, we don’t have it on the women’s side but we do it on men’s. So I think it’s a little premature to talk about what format we’ll take. So we’ll have to sit down relatively soon and start talking about it.”
When the MAAC met with Men’s Basketball coaches this month in Florida, they began discussions on whether or not to keep the December weekend of games. Ensor said that the coaches had not formed an opinion on the issue yet and they will continue to discuss the issue.
Ensor said on August 28th he was notified by the University that they would be moving to the Patriot League for the 2013-14 academic calendar. A call in the morning from the Maryland school followed by a correspondence informed him that the Greyhounds would be leaving. On August 29th, Loyola officially announced their move.
Ensor said that he understands Loyola’s decision was based on business and that as a conference they will have to adjust.
“We have had discussions on the presidential level and AD’s about the fact that it was highly unlikely that realignment wouldn’t touch us at some point,” Ensor said. “I wouldn’t think it would surprise anyone that realignment could occur but I don’t think anybody was expecting it either, it was just one of those things.”
In May, when Ensor met with the Council of Presidents, Loyola was the only school that was not in attendance. That was because Loyola was in the midst of celebrating a Men’s Lacrosse National Championship, their first in school history. In June Ensor said that all nine members who met at their May meeting committed to each other and said that the schools made “a general commitment that nobody is actively seeking membership in any other conference.”
The MAAC presidents were scheduled to have a conference call on the day after Labor Day. Ensor said that the call was business as usual for the conference.
“I think right now the presidents feel that the league is at a good place, they are disappointed that Loyola withdrew but it’s business as usual,” Ensor said.
Business as usual includes exploring expansion opportunities.
“We’ve spent the better part of two years now looking at membership expansion,” Ensor said. “I think we’ve had a well known position that we’re willing to accept members up to 12 at least, for scheduling and other reasons and that hasn’t changed.”
“I think we talked about this in the spring. We talked about a northern, traditional market strategy and a southern strategy so we’re going to continue working on that as we move forward. I wouldn’t say there’s anything immediate in the plans.”
One coach in the league said he thinks the MAAC will look to pick up a new geographic area with expansion.
“I’ve heard rumors about Florida, I’ve heard rumors about North Carolina,” he said. “Certainly there’s schools in the northeast that would jump to come in our league.”
MAAC bylaws dictate that three-quarters of the membership, seven of the nine presidents in the case of the conference, would have to approve a new member school.
“As a general rule, we’ve never taken anybody that we didn’t have unanimous consent [for],” Ensor said. “Unanimous consent I’m talking about nine presidents in this case, because Loyola wouldn’t be voting.”
“Now, does that mean we wouldn’t take anybody if it wasn’t unanimous? Who knows. But historically, when we get to the point where we’re adding members it’s usually unanimously.”
Ensor said that no school has the right to veto any school from joining the membership.
“Much of this is not as much written in the bylaws as let’s sit around the table,” Ensor said and acknowledged that he has not had the conversations with the presidents yet.
The MAAC has added members during Ensor’s tenure, the most recent full members that joined the conference were Marist and Rider who both joined in 1997.
“Usually you don’t want to talk about it to the media about it ahead of time,” Ensor said of what he’s learned from adding members in the past.
“I think in membership, what you’re looking for is compatible schools with an emphasis on basketball. That’s the starting point for the discussion. In our case, we’ve been looking for private schools with an emphasis in basketball, tradition in basketball, similar academics, commitment to broadcasting like we have. Those would be starting points for discussion, and it’s not all basketball you need to see how they complement your other sports.”
“We have a couple sports where we could use some new members and that’s why we have associate members to begin with. Tennis for instance comes to mind, it’s not one of the first ones that most people think of but we probably could use another tennis program in the league. Those kind of things. We’re trying to build lacrosse up as a sport so that would be another one we’d be looking at.”
The MAAC has associate members that include Virginia Military Institute, Jacksonville University and the University of Detroit for men’s lacrosse. The conference has seven members in both of its lacrosse leagues. Drake, Sacred Heart and Robert Morris fill out the league’s women’s rowing conference as associate members along with Jacksonville. The conference added Bryant as an associate member for men’s swimming last Friday.