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Monday, December 17, 2012

MAAC gets proactive by bringing Monmouth on board


WEST LONG BRANCH — When the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference hired Richard Ensor in 1988 it was facing defections from a number of schools and wanted a proactive approach to strengthening the league.

At a press conference Monday introducing Monmouth as one of the conference’s two new members, Ensor said the league is on stable ground and looking to add a 12th school in the near future.

Monmouth and Quinnipiac were announced Friday as the 10th and 11th members of the MAAC. Both currently reside in the Northeast Conference and are joining for the 2013-14 academic year.

Loyola is leaving to join the Patriot League at the end of the year.

“I am proactive,” Ensor said. “I was hired at a time when we were losing members after the initial formation of the Patriot League. Because of the way that occurred, I’ve always been tuned in to membership issues and we’ve been aggressive before.

“When we added Marist and Rider (in 1997) there wasn’t any realignment going on, but we wanted to build the league and bring in members that added rivalries and they made sense.”

Ensor said the legwork for expansion began long before Loyola informed him it was departing, but the decision by the Baltimore-based school sped up the process of adding new members.

He added that Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten — the tipping point for this realignment free-for-all — delayed the decision to bump up to 12 schools sooner.

“We were already in that discussion mode so when Loyola made its decision, we realized it was time to get proactive,” Ensor said. “It was easy to implement.”

The MAAC contacted around 12 schools in its search to add members, Ensor said, including expansion into the South, but decided travel would be too strenuous and opted to stay in the Northeast.

Both Monmouth and Quinnipiac met what the league was looking for geographically, academically and athletically.

“Excellence in academics and athletics,” Ensor calls it.

He said the league is prepared to add a 12th school but there is no timetable on when that might happen.

“It won’t be for next season,” Ensor said.

Ensor said the MAAC is likely to wait for the fall out from the Catholic 7 — the group of schools that announced their split from the Big East. Multiple reports have indicated several Atlantic 10 schools are in play as the realignment shuffle heats up.

“There’s going to be a sorting out process that takes place and we’ll see if there are some opportunities there,” Ensor said. “We wouldn’t mind getting a Philly team in our market.”

Both La Salle — a former MAAC member — and St. Joseph’s could be a fit if they are left out in the cold by the next round of conference shuffle.

Monmouth brings with it the $57 million state-of-the-art Multipurpose Athletic Center — called the MAC, which Ensor jokingly said the school will need to sell the naming rights to in order to avoid confusion — and a basketball program on the rise with King Rice at the helm in his second season.

“This is a big-time opportunity for our school and the men’s basketball program,” said Rice, whose team is off to a 5-6 start. “Obviously, it’s going to be a tough transition, but I like challenges. This is bigger than men’s basketball moving, I think Monmouth has moved its way up to be considered by the MAAC.”

The Hawks also share a natural rival in Rider. The two schools signed a four-year home-and-home deal that began again this season with the Broncs’ 65-62 victory in Lawrenceville.

“I think that’s a great game for us,” Rice said. “We’ve recruited against each other since I’ve been here so I’m sure that will continue. Now the stakes are a little higher because we will be playing twice a year.”

As for scheduling next season, Ensor said the conference’s athletic directors, chaired by Rider A.D. Don Harnum, will meet Thursday at the recently renovated league office in Edison to hammer that out.

A 20-game home-and-home conference slate is most likely, but a round robin where some teams only play each other once is still a possibility.

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