Friday morning in New York City seated next to nine of the MAAC’s presidents appeared to be the culmination in a long journey of finding new members for MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor.
The MAAC’s nine Presidents, excluding Loyola (MD) because of their Patriot League departure in 2013, discussed the topic of expansion for the first two hours of their meeting. The heard from Ensor’s special committee who presented two schools that were voted in on Friday: Monmouth and Quinnipiac.
“This process has been ongoing for years,” Ensor said. “We’ve had strategic plans and then we’ve had membership committees and the most recent step in the process was the formation of the special subcommittee.”
The Presidents approved the admission of Monmouth and Quinnipiac. Each needed seven of nine votes to pass. Ensor said that the vote was “near unanimous” but that neither vote was unanimous. Schools abstained from voting, but no school voted no to any new member.
“We didn’t have any negative votes,” Ensor said.
“There wasn’t any strong opposition,” Ensor said. “Even amongst a school that may or may not want to support it. It was just where they are in their preference. A lot of it had to do with 10 versus 11 frankly.”
The MAAC does not release the voting on membership. For the 2013-14 season, the MAAC is prepared to enter with an 11-member league but will stay open to the idea of adding a 12th member while waiting to see how expansion impacts the northeast, particularly because of the rumored exodus of basketball-focused schools from the Big East.
“I wouldn’t see any expansion beyond 11 for the 13-14 season but I would say that the membership agenda is still active,” Ensor said. “We’re still evaluating a possible 12th member and to a certain extent we’re waiting to see how the landscape changes in the northeast.”
“We’re being proactive with it and stay in the review mode and I think 12 is a distinct possibility. Whether it’s a year from now or two years from now, it’s hard to say.”
A special committee was formed to tackle the idea of adding members headed by Ensor, Siena President Father Kevin Mullen, Fairfield President Reverend Jeffrey P. von Arx and Rider Athletic Director Don Harnum.
“We were involved at one point or another with 10 or 12 schools that we reached out to,” Ensor said. “There was a lot of inquiring that went into that process but we made formal visits to the two schools that were selected and a couple of others.”
Ensor said the committee made formal visits to the schools in a span of the past three months, visiting Monmouth in October and Quinnipiac on Election Day.
“As we narrowed down our list we were looking to emphasize markets where we already have a presence,” Ensor said. “We wanted to strengthen potential rivals. I think for Fairfield, Quinnipiac was attractive because it presents an in state rival that they’ve not had before and they see some potential there for some great rivalry growth.”
“For the New Jersey schools it was a similar discussion. Rider has a long standing tradition with Monmouth going back to their joint membership from the NEC years ago. St. Peter’s has played Monmouth on most of their sports schedules so this is another opportunity to strengthen the brand in the state in the region.”
The need to control travel costs and the fact that both new schools presented options for travel partners was a plus as well Ensor said. Another was their recently upgraded basketball facilities.
“A big plus for both these institutions is their basketball facilities,” Ensor said. “These two facilities will be the two best on-campus facilities in the MAAC, there’s no question.”
Quinnipiac opened the TD Bank Sports Center in 2007 while Monmouth opened their new arena in 2009.
Ensor said the conference has raised its profile from the last time he explored expansion of the league in 1997. The MAAC added Marist and Rider then.
“I think the profile of the MAAC has grown significantly,” Ensor said. “I think the investment that our member schools have made in basketball in our broadcasting, our relationship with ESPN and Disney for our exempt events that we run, our womens’ basketball, our relationship with the Hall of Fame and Springfield, these are all major pluses for the league and were items that were attractive to potential members.”
“The efforts we’ve made in terms of branding, to develop an identity in the marketplace [and] our ability to put on a neutral site championship.”
In the first year of the neutral site championship in Springfield, regular season champion Iona earned an NCAA Tournament at-large bid to go with MAAC Tournament champion Loyola (MD).
The 2013-14 season schedule is still up in the air. The MAAC’s athletic directors, including Monmouth and Quinnipiac, will meet Thursday at the MAAC offices in New Jersey to discuss scheduling options for the upcoming season.
They will be presented a “series of options” that includes a full round robin 20-game schedule as well as a combination of 18-game schedule with rotating opponents. Ensor said it will be up to the schools to decide and does not believe a consensus has been formed on the issue yet.
Ryan Restivo covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo.