This Friday, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Council of Presidents met and unanimously voted to add Quinnipiac and Monmouth to the MAAC. Wagner, who was also rumored to be an expansion candidate for the MAAC, will reportedly remain in the NEC.
(I will now call Wagner the UConn of the NEC, because they were probably giddy to leave, much like UConn was for the ACC weeks ago, only to be rejected in the end. “No really, we here at Wagner love being in the NEC! No really, we do! You guys are like the BEST CONFERENCE EVER!!”)
Quinnipiac and Monmouth’s transition to the MAAC will be effective on July 1, 2013, meaning this current basketball season will be last season in the NEC for both programs. Looking ahead, the NEC will have ten basketball teams for the 2013-14 season. If there’s a silver lining to this news, it’s that the ten team conference should eliminate the unbalanced schedule now in place. Under the new format, each team would have nine opponents and play each school twice in a home-and-home series every conference year.
So what does this mean for Sacred Heart? For one, Sacred Heart will no longer play Quinnipiac twice a year. With the Connecticut Six basketball event planned for the next few seasons, however, it’s reasonable to assume the Pioneers and Bobcats will continue their in-state rivalry by facing off once during the non-conference portion of their schedules. Hopefully that dream comes to fruition, but of course, nothing is set in stone. After all, Sacred Heart and Fairfield inexplicably couldn't work out a deal that would feature an annual matchup between two universities that reside in the same city.
As a Pioneer fan and alum, I’m a little saddened by Quinnipiac’s departure, even though the writing was on the wall. In recent years, Quinnipiac has been pouring a ton of capital into their basketball program, greatly outspending their NEC rivals almost two to one. Upward conference mobility had to be the goal of the gold and blue, so they evidently got their wish. Monmouth’s departure, on the other hand, is more of a surprise, especially since they were one of the original members – along with Robert Morris, Fairleigh Dickenson, St. Francis Brooklyn, St. Francis University, LIU Brooklyn, and Wagner – of the NEC. It’s expected Monmouth will remain in the NEC for a couple of sports, most notably football, that the MAAC doesn’t sponsor.
(Could you imagine that awkward conversation between Monmouth and the NEC: “Thanks for the last 32 years, but we have some more cold hard cash to make in the MAAC. See ya!! Oh but … umm ... is it OK if we still play football and field hockey in your conference? Pretty please?”)
Most importantly, how can I and my fellow Pioneer brethren now focus our Big Red Pioneer Pride hatred toward? Central Connecticut? Robert Morris? In reality, nothing will come close to the back and forth rivalry that Quinnipiac (Sacred Heart is 12-13 vs Quinnipiac since 2001) provides at the basketball level.
Oh well. The games will continue to be played and they’ll continue to be watched (well at least by me and some other diehards). Selfishly, the conference will become a little easier next season with the aforementioned departures, but with Shane Gibson soon gone, the Pioneers realistically won’t be any closer to a NEC championship.
But the NEC will be alive and well, and that’s the most important news I will take away from all of this. I’ve really enjoyed working with some of the people over at the NEC, especially Associate Commissioner Ron Ratner, so I’m happy that the conference will continue to chug forward.
Hopefully, the NEC can send over a repo men to confiscate the digital scorer’s tables and Front Row equipment provided by the NEC at Quinnipiac and Monmouth. Those schools won't need the conference's state-of-the-art equipment, since they'll be rolling in the dough after they decided to leave the NEC for supposedly greener pastures.
Ryan Peters covers Sacred Heart men's basketball for Pioneer Pride and Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @pioneer_pride