Quinnipiac director of athletics Jack McDonald recently spoke with Big Apple Buckets about the university’s recent move from the NEC to the MAAC. McDonald was hired as the Athletic Director at Quinnipiac in 1995, and has guided the University through two major conference changes during his 18 years at this post. The first was in 1998 when Quinnipiac entered the world of Division I Athletics and joined the NEC. The second was this past July 1st when the Bobcats left the NEC for the MAAC.
McDonald has held a working relationship with MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor for decades, dating back to McDonald’s time as AD at the University of Denver and assistant athletic director for marketing at Boston College. When Quinnipiac made the decision to take the leap to Division I Athletics in 1998, the MAAC was at the top of the list of possible destinations. However the MAAC was not ready to accept new members at this time so at the behest of Ensor, Quinnipiac instead accepted an invitation to the NEC, where they have competed for the past 15 years.
Although Quinnipiac wasn’t able to move the majority of their athletics programs to the MAAC, they did have a unique situation in their ice hockey program which needed to find a home. The NEC does not sponsor men’s ice hockey, so Quinnipiac joined with seven other schools including UConn, Fairfield, and Sacred Heart to start a men’s hockey league sponsored by the MAAC and presided over by Rich Ensor as commissioner. In 2003 the league separated from the MAAC and became known as the Atlantic Hockey Association. In 2005 Quinnipiac separated from the AHA and became a full member of the ECAC.
Thanks to this connection to the MAAC through men’s ice hockey, the Quinnipiac staff and commissioner Ensor were able to maintain a positive relationship even though QU was not a full member of the conference. When the time came this past year for the MAAC to seek new members, McDonald and Quinnipiac were at the top of the candidates list. The Bobcats had a proven track record of success in the NEC, met the academic standards of the MAAC, and played in a state of the art arena. Quinnipiac is a private institution, holds a strong connection to the New York City area through political polls and sponsorship of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and has a strong passion for pursuing televised games. Each of these qualities appealed to the representatives from the MAAC schools and made Quinnipiac a strong choice for acceptance to the conference.
Unlike most NCAA conferences which focus on football, the MAAC is built around a focus on basketball. According to McDonald when there is divide amongst the schools in a conference between “basketball schools” and “football schools” this can bring down the conference as a whole, as evidenced by what recently happened to the Big East. The only MAAC schools which offer football are Marist, which competes as a member of the Pioneer Football League, and Monmouth, which will play the 2013 season as a FCS independent before joining the Big South Conference in 2014. Quinnipiac’s football team remains undefeated since 1929.
When Loyola (MD) announced in August 2012 that they would be departing for the Patriot League for the 2013-14 season, the wheels were set in motion for the MAAC to add a team. In the months following Loyola’s announcement, the athletic directors and presidents of the MAAC institutions gathered information on potential new members in order to make the best possible decision. On November 6, 2012 a group of athletic directors and presidents representing schools from the MAAC took a tour of the Quinnipiac grounds and facilities as a final step before the official meeting to choose a new member.
On December 14, 2012 the presidents of the MAAC institutions gathered to vote on new members and selected both Quinnipiac and Monmouth University to join the conference. Word of acceptance quickly reached McDonald through school president John Lahey. Though the Quinnipiac staff was exuberant about receiving the invitation to the MAAC, their emotions quickly changed as they soon learned of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, a mere 40 minutes away from Hamden. The public press conference the university planned to hold that weekend to announce the move was canceled and a private video session was held in its place. Quinnipiac waited eight months to publicly celebrate their move to the MAAC, as the Basketball Hall of Fame hosted “Quinnipiac Day” on August 20, during which Quinnipiac’s own display was unveiled at the “MAAC Experience” showcase alongside the 10 other MAAC institutions.
Though it has become more common in recent years for schools to change conferences as the NCAA landscape continues to shift, these moves do not happen overnight. In the case of Quinnipiac it took 15 years of development, growth, success, and failures for the Bobcats to finally gain acceptance in the MAAC. With the move to a conference that puts its main focus on basketball, Quinnipiac is in the perfect place to succeed.
Vincent Simone will be chronicling Quinnipiac’s move to the MAAC and helping cover the conference this season for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.