Are there enough college basketball fans in the Capital Region to support two conference tournaments at the same time?
We will soon find out.
A month after the University at Albany announced that it will host the America East Conference men’s tournament for the first time March 6-8, 2009, at the 4,538-seat SEFCU Arena, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference named the Times Union Center, home court of defending conference tournament champion Siena College, as the revised site for its men’s and women’s tournament March 5-9. The Times Union Center will also host the MAAC basketball championship in 2010.
Next season’s MAAC men’s and women’s championship was originally scheduled for Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, N.J., but that site had economic issues with hosting the event, and asked that another site be named. The Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn., will host the tournament in 2011.
In order to accomodate the MAAC event, the Times Union is switching the dates of the state high school wrestling tournament (originally March 6-7) and Albany River Rats games.
MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor wasn’t available for comment because he was attending the MAAC meetings in Orlando, Fla., but he did issue a press release.
“The Arena at Harbor Yard and the Times Union Center in Albany have proven to be great hosts for the MAAC basketball tournament in past years,” the statement said. “In renewing our association with the two arenas, the MAAC Council of Presidents agreed to a three-year schedule that has the championship at The Times Union Center in 2009 and 2010 and the Arena at Harbor Yard in 2011.”
Ensor explained why the change was necessary.
“The business model for Sovereign Bank Arena has changed significantly over the last couple years,” he said in the release. “We are looking at decreasing our risk/exposure on future events, and requested that the MAAC consider alternate hosting models or a venue switch.”
Siena athletic director John D’Argenio also couldn’t be reached because he was also at the MAAC meetings, but he issued a press release of his own.
“We are pleased and fortunate that the Times Union Center was able to make dates available for the 2009 MAAC men’s and women’s basketball championships. For a number of years, the MAAC has operated a successful tournament based on its business model, and being able to continue with that model is important to all the conference members. Hopefully, we can prove to be worthy hosts in both 2009 and 2010, so that we get strong consideration in future bidding.”
While Siena officials were thrilled with the news, UAlbany administrators weren’t as happy, especially since there will be direct competition for the area basketball fans’ and sponsors’ dollars.
UAlbany athletic director Lee McElroy was asked how the news will affect the America East Conference tournament.
“I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet,” McElroy said. “We’ve been spending all our time preparing for the tournament and working on it every day. We will continue to do that. I haven’t spoken to our commissioner [Patrick Nero] yet, but I’m sure he will have some thoughts on how we will move forward. I can’t speculate at this point. This hasn’t happened before.
“We will continue planning and moving forward with the work we have to do. Our next conference meeting is June 22-26, and I’m sure there will be plenty of discussion on what we will do next.”
McElroy admitted that he was stunned when he first heard the news.
“I had no idea. We had no inkling that this would happen at all,” he said. “It came out of nowhere. No one reached out to us to discuss it. We’ve been e-mailing Patrick Nero to see if he’s spoken to Rich Ensor yet. We’ll get a chance to delve into this and analyze it at a later date.”
He admitted that having the MAAC championships and the America East Conference championship going on at the same time in the same city is not helping UAlbany’s cause.
“A true basketball fan has to make a decision,” McElroy said. “There are already two distinct audiences. There is a MAAC audience and an America East audience. That part will take care of itself. The problem comes in with the crossover fan. It will depend on how we play against MAAC schools, how well we’re
doing as a conference and how well we’re doing as a team. That will influence how many fans we draw to our tournament.
“But this is also a business decision for us. We have a guarantee of $100,000 to the America East Conference, and we have a good model and a good plan to attain that goal. We’re off to a great start in terms of sponsorships, but we didn’t anticipate this news.”