Monday, June 18, 2012
What's next for America East?
Boston University announced last week that it will leave the America East for the Patriot League after next season, leaving a mixed reaction from the remaining members.
Stony Brook, the strongest America East school, couldn't care less, while Vermont, one of the more successful programs in the league, senses some apprehension.
Regardless, the America East remains a one-bid league that was hit again with a departure. Losing Delaware, Drexel, Hofstra, Northeastern and Towson to the CAA over the past 10 years have been major blows to the conference.
The addition of Binghamton helped, but Stony Brook is the big add. The Seawolves are investing in athletics like few programs at the one-bid level, and the baseball team just completed a historic season that ended this weekend with an appearance in the College World Series.
"I don't think it does anything to our league," said Stony Brook athletic director Jim Fiore about losing BU. "They've been trying to get out of the league for 15 years to the A-10 or the CAA. I personally say you're either with us or you're not. They went to the Patriot [League], which is a conference that advocates for academics. We wish them the best."
Fiore said he was disappointed in the decision since the two schools had developed a friendly rivalry. This wasn't Duke-Carolina or even Lehigh-Lafayette, but it was evolving.
"We're not in any anxiety right now. We have eight real solid schools, which are committed," said Fiore.
There is natural trepidation when alignment issues trickle down to a conference like the America East.
"It does make everyone a little nervous," said Vermont coach John Becker. "BU leaving means one less game in our conference tournament. We just get rid of the 8-9 game. But Stony Brook has been looking for a new conference too."
That's not the case, according to Fiore and coach Steve Pikiell.
"We have the right number at eight," said Pikiell. "We're happy at eight. We're not aggressively hunting for a conference. We want to stay in the America East."
Fiore said the CAA is going through its own issues after losing Old Dominion to C-USA, VCU to the A-10 and Georgia State to the Sun Belt.
CAA commissioner Tom Yeager is actively looking at expansion and, according to Davidson coach Bob McKillop, was on the Charlotte-area campus. But no formal offer was given, and it's unclear if Davidson would accept since it is comfortable in the Southern Conference. The CAA is also looking at Charleston and, according to sources, Furman and Elon are on a lengthy list. However, Stony Brook makes the most sense if it wants to link up its northern teams with Hofstra.
"It's a turbulent time, but I like where we are," said Fiore. "We want to be the Gonzaga of the East. We're committed to the America East and the next level. We're putting in $20-25 million into a basketball arena. We were just in the College World Series. We're committed from the top down. I like the people in our league, and I think we have a great new commissioner in Amy Huchthausen."
Becker said losing the Boston area isn't a huge blow since he wants to add the Terriers to the nonconference schedule. New Hampshire and other schools will likely try to do the same.
"We'll figure it out," Becker said.
If the America East were to expand, the obvious choices would include the former league members that are now in the CAA. But if that can't occur, the NEC's two more highly respected academic schools -- Quinnipiac and Bryant -- would be targeted, according to multiple sources.
Quinnipiac and Bryant don't fit the academic profile of the NEC, as both schools profess to be of a higher quality. Quinnipiac puts more money into athletics than probably any other NEC school and has the top arena in the league. Bryant is eligible for the conference tournament and postseason in 2013 for the first time since transitioning to Division I.
Bryant would likely jump at the chance to be in a bus league with the state schools in New England and New York. Quinnipiac would rather be in the CAA or A-10 if given the choice.
Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore said the school has consistently been moving forward. But Fiore doesn't see an America East fit for either school -- for now.
"I don't think either are on our radar," Fiore said. "The presidents want to be patient. We're not in any rush to add anybody."