MAAC Tournament says goodbye to Albany, prepares for future in Atlantic City

MAAC Championship has been held in Albany for the  last five years.

Ryan McFadden/The Ionian

MAAC Championship has been held in Albany for the last five years.

Ryan McFadden, Sports Editor

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The Times Union Center in Albany, New York has been a travel destination for Iona College basketball fans for the last five years. Fans would either drive or take the student bus for more than two hours to watch the men’s and women’s basketball teams compete in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament.

Starting next season, fans will have to travel the same length, but to a different location, as the MAAC Tournament will be hosted at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

The conference announced back in May that the MAAC Tournament will be held at the 90-year-old Boardwalk Hall from 2020 to 2022. Despite the move, MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor credits Albany for helping with the growth of the conference and the tournament.

“It’s been in Albany over the last five years and 20 times in the last 30 years,” Ensor said. “It’s been a central part of our success as a conference, allowing us to build a platform to showcase our teams nationally on ESPN and drive revenue to help fund conference budgeting and operations. We have grown with them, as we have added more and more to the championship.”

The process of finding a new venue started more than a year ago when a bid proposal was sent out to different locations that would possibly be interested in hosting the MAAC Tournament.

“Every three to five years, we put out a bid, which request proposals from other regions to host the championship over a period of time,” Ensor said. “Eighteen months ago, we put out a bid proposal for 2020-2022. In that proposal it list our financial needs, facility needs and our auxiliary space needs.”

The Times Union Center, Boardwalk Hall, Webster Bank Arena in Connecticut and the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York, placed bids to host the tournament.

The MAAC looked into the Nassau Coliseum when it held a conference triple-header last season, which featured Iona men’s team playing rival Manhattan College. However, Atlantic City met the conference’s financial and geographical needs.

“The financials were strong. They matched with what we were receiving in Albany,” Ensor said. “It has a lot of upside for us – first-rate facility, and they have shows and dining options. We think when fans aren’t engaged at the games, they can be at the shows in the casinos. They can participate in traditional gambling and sports gambling. It has a lot of upside for our fans and we look forward in having it there.”

Having a neutral location for the tournament was an important factor when making the decision for a new location. The Times Union Center is the home court for Siena College, which is why the school has a good crowd turnout. Even though Monmouth and Rider will serve as co-host for the 2019-2020 MAAC Tournament, both teams don’t play there on a regular basis.

“For many years, we sought a site that would be neutral. Meaning, no host school plays in the building on a regular basis,” Ensor said. “We were also looking for a site for our fans to travel to and have other activities besides basketball. We wanted to have it in our geographical footprint so that it can be supported by schools in the region. When we looked at the Atlantic City bid, it checked off all those boxes. It was neutral and it has hosted events in the past like the Atlantic-10 Tournaments.”

The MAAC has plans to continue the same events surrounding the tournament, such as the Mac-N-Cheese Festival, Band Jam and the Spirit Squad Showcase. The conference is also looking into adding esports to the list of events that take place during the tournament.

“One of the big new ones we have been developing is esports,” Ensor said. “Last year, we did it as part of the MAAC Tournament. This year we [are] doing it in Albany as part of the women’s basketball NCAA Tournament Regional, which is March 30-31.”

The MAAC has partnered up with the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) for the Hudson Valley Esports Invitational and Expo, which will feature teams from both conferences competing in the Albany Capital Center.

The goal is to have an event similar to the Hudson Valley Esports Invitational take place in Atlantic City next year.

“For 2020 in Atlantic City, we anticipate putting [esports] as part of events that take place during the MAAC Basketball Championships,” Ensor said.

According to Kiernan Ensor, an esports consultant for the MAAC, Canisius, Marist, Saint Peter’s, Siena, Quinnipiac, Niagara and Iona have esports teams. Kiernan Ensor is expecting most if not all MAAC schools to have teams that can compete next year. The layout of the event is still being decided.

“The logistics and layout of any event next year are still to be determined,” Kiernan Ensor said via email. “The MAAC is currently focused on the planning and execution of this year’s [Hudson Valley] Gamer Con at the end of the month.”

The MAAC looks forward to the future in Atlantic City, but the door isn’t completely shut on a potential return to the Times Union Center.

“We will never shut the door,” Rich Ensor said. “After being in Atlantic City for a couple of years, we will start developing another bid process and we’ll see who is interested.”