The rumors won’t stop coming and because they’re coming from multiple places (with the guess that they’re not reading each other’s articles – though that’s a possibility) it sounds like Quinnipiac, Wagner and Monmouth are probably going to be leaving the NEC for the MAAC, assuming they’re invited on Friday. The move would dramatically alter the landscape of both conferences.
While this is being seen in the context of basketball, it could also impact NEC football in a big way. The conference currently has nine teams that play football, but Albany is leaving for the CAA starting in 2013. If Monmouth and Wagner were to depart, that would leave the conference at six members. Coincidentally that’s the number you need in order to be an automatic bid football conference in the Football Championship Subdivision. It would certainly make NEC football the smallest FCS conference and leave it vulnerable to further expansion.
It’s also worth noting that Albany and Wagner finished 1-2 in the NEC standings this season. Thus it’d be a big loss in terms of competitiveness. Where though would Wagner and Monmouth’s football teams go? The MAAC doesn’t sponsor football – with good reason, only Marist participates. (The Red Foxes play in the Pioneer League.) It seems unlikely, though possible that the NEC would allow them to be associate members (Duquesne of the Atlantic 10 currently operates in that model).
The NEC’s basketball product would be impacted by the moves as well, and that’s why everyone is up in arms. Losing Wagner, Quinnipiac and Monmouth would take away some of the most prominent members of the conference, including a founding member in the Seahawks. Monmouth joined in 1985 and Quinnipiac in 1998. The Bobcats have always seemed like a program that was going to be on the move, so their departure doesn’t come as much of a surprise. It’s the other two schools that hurt.
As basketball schools all three of these institutions make a lot of sense for the MAAC. Wagner has natural rivalries with Iona and Manhattan due to proximity. Monmouth gives Rider a New Jersey buddy and Quinnipiac complements Fairfield in Connecticut. Once Loyola (Md.) departs for the Patriot League after this season and these three joined the MAAC would have 12 basketball playing schools. This could help the MAAC fight off future expansion disruptions (if for instance Siena or Fairfield decided to go somewhere else).
Scheduling though would be more difficult. There are some options, but none of them are particularly satisfactory. It won’t be the classic home-and-home schedule that the MAAC has enjoyed in the past. There’s no reasonable way to cram 22 conference games into a college basketball schedule and no team should be expected to do it. Instead you end up playing two teams only at home and two only on the road. It’s less than ideal. William Paxton, the reporter who originally broke the expansion news, says that he’s heard the MAAC will split into two divisions.
On the other hand, scheduling for the NEC would probably get more equitable. The conference could decide to stay at nine members, or it could look to add NJIT or maybe attempt to poach from America East. (I’d prefer the former as the latter requires even more conference in-fighting.) A 10-team league is easy to schedule for with a simple home-and-home. You’d get to keep all your rivalries and get a fairer schedule distribution – just ask the coaches that only have to go Robert Morris this season.
Everything here though is speculation. There probably won’t be any official word until after Friday’s meeting of the MAAC Presidents. We’ll learn then who is being invited and, just as importantly, who wants to accept. It’s certain that the landscape of east coast basketball (and football) will be irrevocably altered.