LOUDONVILLE — Their home venue, on a temporary basis, was changed Friday.
Then, their MAAC men’s basketball schedule was drastically rearranged.
Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello said his Saints will roll with all of it.
“We just want to play,” Maciariello said.
Less than three weeks before the Saints are set to open their 2020-21 season, one set to be played as the nation continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, their athletic department announced Friday that all of their December home games will be played — without fans in attendance — at the school’s Alumni Recreation Center, rather than at downtown Albany’s Times Union Center where the Saints finished 14-0 last season.
Hours later, the MAAC announced a shift in its scheduling format. Instead of men’s teams playing on Tuesdays and Fridays, and women’s teams playing on Wednesdays and Saturdays when conference play starts in December, both men’s and women’s teams will play Fridays and Saturdays.
“The MAAC’s goal with the revised scheduling format is to complete the conference season and meet the NCAA minimum of 13 Division I games to be played by teams,” MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor said in a press release issued through the conference. “In light of the evolving state and local health standards, the increasing levels of infection rates, and decisions related to testing teams and officials three times a week for COVID-19, the MAAC membership revised its existing format for this season. The health and safety of our student-athletes and those associated with our programs is the priority of the Council of Presidents.”
In the MAAC’s revised scheduling format — which mirrors how a number of other leagues are handling the 2020-21 season — two schools will play each other on back-to-back days at one site, with the men playing at one school and the women playing at the other. In all, each program will still play 10 home games and 10 away games during the 2020-21 MAAC season.
Notably, the America East Conference — which counts UAlbany as a member — is using such a format, but with its teams playing on Saturdays and Sundays. The UAlbany men’s basketball team had all of its activities temporarily suspended on Wednesday after “an individual associated with the men’s team was part of a pool of tests that came back presumptively positive for COVID-19 during routine pooled surveillance testing,” and that pause remains in place heading into the weekend, both UAlbany athletic director Mark Benson and men’s basketball head coach Will Brown confirmed Friday.
Beyond announcing its new format, the MAAC did not announce Friday a new schedule for its teams, but league play is expected to start with games on Dec. 11-12. The Siena men’s basketball team had been set to start league play Dec. 8 at Rider and the Siena women’s basketball team was slated to start MAAC play Dec. 9 vs. Niagara.
Both teams, though, know they will share a home court for, at least, December. While the women’s team regularly plays its home games at Siena’s on-campus ARC and will continue to do that, Siena announced Friday that all of its men’s basketball home games in December will take place on campus without fans in attendance.
State regulations related to the coronavirus pandemic currently don’t allow for fans to attend, while the MAAC previously announced that fans won’t be able to attend any of the league’s games until at least Dec. 23. Siena and Times Union Center officials worked to see if it was possible for the Saints to play their home games in the downtown Albany arena with limited or no fans. Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said Friday’s decision came from a “fiscal responsibility standpoint,” and that extra costs the school’s athletic department has related to the pandemic made it difficult for the Saints to play without fans at Times Union Center, despite the arena’s management working with the school to lower costs.
“The math didn’t work out,” D’Argenio said.
D’Argenio said his department has a plan in place to play games at Times Union Center once fans are allowed to attend, and will be able to execute that plan as soon as league and state regulations allow.
“We’ll be ready to go with the push of a few buttons,” D’Argenio said.
The Siena men’s basketball program last played on campus at Alumni Recreation Center in an exhibition game against Le Moyne in 2017. Before that, the Saints beat Fresno State on their campus to win the 2014 College Basketball Invitational, and the program’s last regular-season game at Alumni Recreation Center was in 1997.
The first home game this season for Maciariello’s squad was scheduled to be a Dec. 11 conference game against Saint Peter’s. Now, though, the Saints don’t know when they’ll have their home opener.
“I’m just excited to play. It doesn’t really matter where we play. We could play at Washington Park,” Maciariello said Friday. “We’re excited just to be able to have a place to play.”
Maciariello said he expects the Saints to still practice occasionally at Times Union Center.
“Just so we can have another venue,” Maciariello said. “I think that’s key to keeping guys uncomfortable.”
Siena finished 20-10 last season and won its final 10 games before its season was prematurely ended with it playing as the top seed in the in-progress MAAC tournament. On Thursday night, the MAAC’s preseason coaches poll was announced, with the Saints predicted to finish in first place.
Siena finished 14-0 on its home court last season at Times Union Center.
“There’s no excuses. We don’t want anyone to make any excuses for us,” Maciariello said of his program needing, temporarily, to move away from its normal home court. “It’s all about being able to compete and play at a high level, and we’ll make sure we do that.”
The Siena men’s basketball program has played at least some of its home games at the downtown Albany arena since 1990, and started playing there full-time in the 1997-98 season.
SCRIMMAGE SET FOR SUNDAY
Maciariello said the Saints will conduct their first intrasquad scrimmage, with officials, on Sunday. Due to restrictions related to the pandemic, teams are not allowed to participate in preseason scrimmages or exhibitions against other schools during the 2020-21 preseason.
Siena’s non-conference schedule is still not officially announced, but Maciariello confirmed that the Saints expect to play a game against Liberty at Mohegan Sun Arena in Connecticut, in addition to their previously announced games against Delaware and UMass. A game against Vermont is nearly finalized, while the Saints are also likely to play Drexel.
“I still could use two more games,” Maciariello said.
Siena is slated to open its season Nov. 26 vs. UMass at Mohegan Sun Arena.