After the first season of the America East Playoff format, which saw 21,292 fans attend seven games at four different sites, the conference decided to continue the format indefinitely.
The original period for the playoff format, where the conference’s top seeds receive home court advantage in each round similar to the NEC and Patriot League formats, was set for two years. However, after consulting with the league’s presidents, athletic directors and men’s basketball coaches, the decision was made to make the format permanent.
“I think everyone was very surprised at how well the playoff format went in just the first year,” America East commissioner Amy Huchthausen said. “No one saw a reason that it won’t continue to be just as successful, if not more so in the second year.”
The first America East Playoffs, which Albany won over Stony Brook in the championship game, drew the most fans the conference has had in 10 years. The 2005 America East tournament, whose quarterfinals and semifinals were played at Binghamton University’s then new Events Center, followed by a championship game at Patrick Gym drew more fans than the 21,292 that the first playoffs did.
For the first version of the playoffs, expectations were optimistic, but compared to the end result, it was an astounding success.
“It was an awesome quarterfinal Wedensday, it was a fantastic semifinal Sunday that led us into a really great championship game,” Huchthausen said. “We had three days where everyone who follows America East basketball, and even people who don’t especially around the championship games that Saturday, there were a lot of people watching, a lot of interest, that I think captured exactly what we were hoping to have happen.”
“It hit a home run in the first year, so it’s hard to hit two home runs in a row, but we’re hoping that that becomes the standard now for what our men’s basketball playoffs look like. If that’s the case, then we feel really good about the fact that we’re able to get so many more people the opportunity to watch their team play in the postseason that just didn’t exist under the old format.”
This season’s playoff format will feature a Monday night semifinal window instead of semifinal games on Sunday as they were last season, but the Saturday morning championship game remains.
“If a school is hosting a semifinal game on Monday night, I have to think that the attendance is going to be very similar then if it was being hosted on a Sunday afternoon,” Huchthausen said. “I think the reason for us going to Monday night allows our teams that one extra day to prepare for the semifinal games, after playing on Wednesday. It will also allow the schools that are hosting those games to use that extra day to prepare to host it and market it and make sure their fans know all the details and get organized to really come out in full force for that game.”
The semifinal games on Monday night will also be available to national audience via ESPN3 and will be against fewer games. That Sunday is the final regular season day for the majority of power conferences and there will be three championship games on Monday night: the CAA, MAAC and SoCon.
“The ancillary benefit is that there will be a better referee pool too,” one coach in the conference said, who added that the shorter week should benefit the teams in the championship game.
The America East, when originally announcing the intention to change the format from a two-day tournament at a neutral site to a playoff format, added that it would be a two season experiment. However, after an evaluation at the conference’s summer meetings, the decision was made to continue the format indefinitely.
“When we originally adopted it, we did put this two year window on it to evaluate it and doing our due diligence, after the first year it just became apparent that this worked really, really well,” Huchthausen said. “Why have these questions out there about what’s going to happen after next year if you don’t need to.”
“Knowing that our coaches are on board with this and our administrators support it, it just made it really obvious that this is what we’re going to do moving forward. We don’t necessarily need to have another conversation around our format again, unless and until something just starts to not work very well and based on just year one success, I don’t think that’s going happen for quite some time.”
The only issue with semifinals on Monday March 7 could be that the MAAC tournament championship game and an America East semifinal game could be played within miles of each other at the same time.
“Last year Albany hosted a semifinal game on Sunday afternoon and the MAAC tournament was going on, so we’re not going to make decisions about what’s in the best interest of our format around what other conferences are doing necessarily,” Huchthausen said. “We think this will work. If Albany happens to be hosting a semifinal game again this year on Monday night, then I have every reason to believe the purple and gold will be out at SEFCU in full force.”
For this season and next the nine team league will have an eight team field as UMass Lowell makes the transition into full Division I membership. They will be eligible for the NCAA tournament starting in the 2017-18 season.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.