The MAAC is back.
After four years away from the Times Union Center, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference men’s and women’s basketball championship tournaments will return to South Pearl Street in Albany after next season.
The MAAC council of presidents unanimously approved the TU Center’s bid on Tuesday, bringing the tournament back to a venue that has been popular with fans as well as a significant homecourt advantage for the Siena Saints.
The basketball conference, which totals 11 schools after Loyola left and Quinnipiac and Monmouth were added, sought to play at a neutral site when it moved the tournament from Bridgeport, Conn., to Springfield, Mass., two seasons ago.
In retrospect, the MAAC found that drawing good crowds was more important than playing at a neutral site.
“The MAAC membership concluded that it was time to bring the MAAC championship back to a home-team arena,” MAAC commissioner Richard Ensor said. “In reviewing the bids, they weighed the positive experience of playing on a neutral floor against the impact lower attendance was having on the MAAC brand.
“The last four years have been a learning experience. We missed the excitement of a full arena.”
“One thing the league needs to be congratulated for, and the presidents, is that they saw that the neutrality issue really was trumped by the matter of providing a quality atmosphere for student-athletes to have a big-time feel, to have fan participation, to have the excitement that comes when a crowd gathers,” said Siena college president Rev. Kevin Mullen, who is also the president of the MAAC council.
“The other presidents recognized the proven track record of the Capital Region and the Times Union Center that this was the proper venue to come to.”
The tournament will complete a three-year run in Springfield at the end of the 2013-14 season, then will be played in Albany for three years, from 2015-17.
The other sites bidding for the tournament were Springfield, Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, where Fairfield plays many of its home games, and the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J.
The tournament has been held in Albany 15 times in the last 24 years, setting the record for total attendance in 2010 with 53,569.
“We’re hoping to beat that
record first year out,” TU Center general manager Bob Belber said. “Another thing I’d like to point out is that 200 to 300 people, over the last few years, have asked me, ‘When are you going to bring the MAAC back?’
“We’ve achieved the goal of getting it here. Now the public needs to stand up and really get behind it, as you have in the past.”
“We need to thank the basketball fans in this area,” Siena athletic director John D’Argenio said, “because if it wasn’t for those folks coming out, not only for Siena games, but other college games and high school games, and the MAAC tournament over the years that we had it, we probably wouldn’t be here today.”
Siena men’s coach Jimmy Patsos was thrilled to learn that the tournament would move back to Albany, for obvious reasons.
But he also supported keeping the tournament in the Capital Region even when he was coaching at Loyola for the last nine seasons despite not enjoying the benefit of homecourt during the postseason, nor the recruiting advantage.
“I believe the Times Union Center is the best place for the fans, and the MAAC brand looks great because the location provides easy access for all the schools and their fans,” he said. “When I was at Loyola, I said the same thing, and the student-athletes really enjoyed the experience.”
Ali Jaques, who will be coaching the Siena women for the second year next season, echoed that sentiment.
“From a coach’s perspective, everything we do is geared toward March, and there’s something special about this city,” she said. “And it didn’t take me long to figure it out. No matter what team you’re on, when there’s a crowd, and you can hear that energy, that’s a really special thing for a student-athlete. And this city really does that for them.”
“We welcome them back to the Capital Region, we’ll show them a good time … and we’ll let them compete for the MAAC championship,” Rev. Mullen said with a grin.