The wheels of conference realignment continued to turn throughout college basketball, yet the Northeast Conference (NEC) had come out relatively unscathed until recently. Last week, the MAAC Council of Presidents and Commissioner Rich Ensor swiftly approved NEC programs Quinnipiac and Monmouth as the newest full-time members of the MAAC.
The announcement wasn’t surprising at all, and was something that NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris was preparing for. “We were familiar with some of the conversations that were happening between the MAAC and some of the member institutions, so yes we knew that [Quinnipiac and Monmouth's departures] were a possibility. We were hoping it wouldn’t come out that way, but we were prepared for that.”
Quinnipiac and Monmouth’s move into the MAAC is effective for all eligible sports on July 1, 2013. Once the transition is complete, the NEC will contract down to ten full-time members, which is a number Morris said she and her NEC staff are comfortable with, at least for the time being.
“Ten [members] for basketball especially is a great number for scheduling,” said Morris. “You can do a double round-robin and that’s especially important to our coaches, because in the past our unbalanced schedule – with not all of our teams making the tournament – they felt that was a little more difficult. So ten is a very good number for basketball scheduling, however in this world of conference realignment, we will certainly look to see if there are options for expansion that make sense for the NEC.”
The NEC staff and member presidents will meet at a later date to discuss all expansion options. All topics will be on the table for discussion according to Morris, including which possible candidate programs – from Division I or Division II – may be targeted. Morris also didn’t rule out the possibility that other football candidate programs may be added to strengthen the conference’s football division.
The NEC precariously stands at seven full-time football members at the moment (six teams are needed to secure an automatic FCS playoff berth), with the recently departed Monmouth as a possible eighth program, should they decide to apply as an associate member of the conference. Still, Morris isn’t specifically targeting a certain number of teams for the NEC’s football division.
“The Patriot League has lived at seven [programs] for a long time, so seven is not an impossible number,” said Morris.
In addition, Morris reiterated that the NEC doesn’t necessarily need an even number of full-time member institutions. If certain circumstances arose that helped improve the NEC and met the conference’s five-year strategic plan, then an odd number of full-time members wouldn’t serve as a barrier.
“This conference lived at 11 institutions for eight years prior to Bryant [University] coming aboard,” said Morris. “It’s not a foreign concept at all.”
Morris was understandably vague when asked about expansion specifics, yet she continued to reiterate that the NEC will do what is in the best interest for its conference and the member schools down the road.
In the meantime, the four-year commissioner is optimistic for the future ahead, given the strides the conference has made with improving its visibility and product – social media initiative, NEC Front Row, digital scorer’s tables – in recent years.
“We’re very excited about the future of the NEC, so even at ten [full-time members] I think all of the things that we’ve been incorporating show that we’re really trying to move the needle.”