Amy Huchthausen is entering her fifth calendar year as the commissioner of the America East and she has already seen plenty.
In those five years, the conference has rebranded, lost a team to another conference, gained a new member, and changed their conference championship system for basketball, to name a few. The conference has seen an influx of departing athletic directors and presidents, hardly an easy start for the commissioner who became the fourth in the conference’s history in 2011.
However, Huchthausen prides herself and the conference in how they have forged relationships to unify a league of eight public schools and one private school to come together towards common goals in her first year.
“I think, generally, things have progressed as I envisioned or had hoped when I started and took the job,” Huchthausen said. “I knew the important pieces were rebuilding the culture and the relationships among our presidents and athletic directors, that was objective number one because if you don’t have that then it makes it really difficult to try to get anything else done at the conference level.”
“I think what all of the things we’ve been able to accomplish over the last four years, we’ve been able to do that because that first year was spent so intently on rebuilding some relationships across our campuses.”
Less than a year into office, the conference lost Boston University, whose intent to join the Patriot League put the America East in a bind. Months later, the conference found their newest member, UMass Lowell, which transitioned from Division II to the America East.
“That certainly was a curveball, if you will less than a year into the job by having an institution depart, but as I’ve told a lot of people in retrospect, it’s been a blessing in disguise,” Huchthausen said. “We’re in a really good place. We found a great member in UMass Lowell and all these other things that we’re doing, you almost kind of forget that we had a membership change to be quite honest just three years ago. The fact that that had did not hold us back then and has not held us back since then and people are focused on the future, I think is a testament to the collaboration and the level of collegiality that we have across our presidents, our athletic directors [and] our coaches.”
The RiverHawk program, which is Division I in hockey but transitioning in other sports, is in the third year of a four year transition. Huchthausen said UMass Lowell has met all of the conference’s expectations in their transition into Division I.
“They were committed to this all the way through and they’ve met their benchmarks in their first two years,” Huchthausen said. “There’s no reason to think that they won’t continue to make progress this year, in year three, and then in their final year next year.”
The conference received inquiries from many institutions, but found the RiverHawks the most promising for the transition. For now, as conference realignment appears to have settled, the America East appears comfortable with nine members.
“We’re very comfortable with the nine schools that are in our league,” Huchthuasen said. “As we do continue to field questions from time to time that doesn’t change the fact that we are really good with the nine schools we have. Unless and until there’s a desire by our schools, or our presidents to expand beyond that, then we’ll continue to move forward with who we have at our table now.”
As her tenure has continued, so has the laundry list of accomplishments thus far, which merited a contract extension that will see Huchthausen lead the conference until June 2020. As for the present, the conference will look to secure their continuing media rights agreement this year, while also continuing to build a strong digital presence. The conference also announced a student-athlete alumni network that will be going through its infancy in 2016.
“Our three pillars message has really taken off in large part because of social and the fact that we’re engaging our student athletes directly,” Huchthausen said. “They’ve been more involved than ever in helping us create some plans or strategies around things like our ‘You Can Play’ partnership.”
“They’ve just been really involved and I think for leagues like us that’s really important.”
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.