The league’s basketball coaches, America East Conference Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said, “have been really patient with all of this.”
Huchthausen, in her 10th year leading the conference, said that Tuesday to describe the overall manner in which the league’s coaches have handled the unprecedented difficulties associated with trying to play this season amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
In particular, though, she appreciated how the league’s programs — such as UAlbany — have waited on some critical information.
How, exactly, will the America East playoffs work this season?
The conference formally announced last fall that this March’s postseason format was to-be-determined in nature. In recent years, the league’s top-eight teams have played in a single-elimination tournament that takes place on campus sites over the course of eight days.
Such a postseason format isn’t necessarily practical during 2021 because of the length of time the tournament takes and the travel it necessitates. But Huchthausen said she viewed it as an advantage for the America East that it wasn’t tied to a particular venue for set dates, which allowed the league “to be patient and see how the basketball season unfolded” before finalizing its postseason plans — and Huchthausen expects the conference to do that within the next two weeks.
“And, as of right now, we fully intend to have a conference championship,” Huchthausen said during a phone interview when asked if it was possible the league could decide to send its regular-season champions to the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments.
Huchthausen said conversations have intensified in the last week regarding how the league’s postseason will be structured, and that “everything is on the table right now.” She did allow, though, that “it’s fair to say [the postseason format] will be different this year than it has been in past years.”
That was possible, though, even without a pandemic playing a role. The America East added a 10th team — NJIT — last offseason, and speculation followed then that the league could reconfigure its postseason setup to allow every team into the playoffs.
Huchthausen didn’t commit Tuesday to how many teams will make each of the league’s tournaments, but noted that the potential that not all teams will be included is a top reason for why the conference needs to make its postseason plans known soon. By early February, when Huchthausen expects the league to make its postseason announcement, most America East teams appear on track to have anywhere from six to eight games remaining.
“If it’s not [including] all 10 teams, I think it’s only right and fair that we give them sufficient notice for whatever the cutoff will be,” Huchthausen said.
Before he sent it along, Taylor O’Connor — the MAAC’s director of new media/communications — offered a note of caution.
“This number will probably change in a few days,” O’Connor said Tuesday.
That number: 124.
According to the conference’s records, that’s how many individual changes have been made to the MAAC men’s and women’s basketball schedules since the league announced its revamped scheduling format for the 2020-21 season . . . so that means those 124 changes — 52 on the men’s side, 72 on the women’s side — don’t include when the league opted to retool its schedule in its entirety.
Siena, certainly, has accounted for its fair share of those changes. The Siena men’s team has only played six games ahead of Friday’s matchup with Saint Peter’s, while the Siena women’s team — which needed to pause in-person team activities, again, last week — has only played four.
The 24-year-old O’Connor is a Siena graduate, and graduated from Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School. He’s worked for the conference since first starting with the MAAC as an intern the fall after he graduated from Siena in 2018, but this season of basketball has certainly been a unique one for O’Connor.
Part of his job during the season is to make sure the schedule on maacsports.com is accurate. Usually, that means checking it here or there since individual schools’ online schedules automatically feed into the conference schedule, “but our system isn’t used to having this many changes.”
The added usage and the complicated nature of some changes to the schedule — Sunday’s schedule changes saw all 11 MAAC men’s programs affected — means errors are more likely to make it onto the league’s website . . . and that O’Connor needs to check through the listed schedule much more often this season.
“It’s become almost a daily routine for me,” O’Connor said.