While NJIT has been enjoying their best season as Division I’s only independent team, and has begun the process to build a $100 million arena, it does not appear to have pressured any conference to take them in.
Their plight to find a conference has been catalogued in The New York Times and, most recently USA Today for a team that went 18-11 and will play in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. But for all the success on the court and building pressure externally to have the Newark based school join a conference, it does not seem to have had an impact on the plans of the America East.
“No, not at all,” America East commissioner Amy Huchthuasen said on if there is any added pressure to add NJIT. “We just went through the membership thing a few years ago. We feel really good with identifying Lowell and getting them transitioned in the league and we’re continuing to do that. The rest of our schools feel, I think, pretty committed to our league right now and focusing on the nine members.”
It is hard not to sympathize with NJIT, who has been without a conference for the last two seasons.
“I don’t think anyone wishes ill will on them at all, but at the same time I think every league has to do what is in its best interests,”Huchthuasen said. “I think every institution has to do what is in its best interest and its unfortunate that they don’t have a conference home.”
“I think everyone recognizes that, but we all are responsible and that doesn’t mean that any given conference should feel, in my opinion, should feel obligated to add them. Leagues are really complicated, its not just a matter of having – in their case – a good basketball season, a good win over a Big Ten opponent that’s great and it was a great accomplishment for their program, but league membership is about so much more than just that, at least it is in our league and that’s why we’ve continued to kind of focus on the nine members that we have and helping Lowell complete their transition to the point where they will be an active member.”
The nine team league has not brought up the issue of expansion in meetings with presidents or athletic directors since adding UMass Lowell as a transitional member for the 2013-14 season.
“I don’t know if people think that we would feel pressure from that, but its tough to pressure a college president, let alone a group of them to do something that just isn’t on their list of things to do,” Huchthausen said. “We addressed the membership concerns a couple of years ago and now we’re really focused on our league and what we can do within our league.”
Overall it has been an impressive year for the conference, as UMBC reached the College Cup, the final four teams in the NCAA soccer championship, before falling to eventual champion Virginia. Albany’s field hockey team advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA tournament before falling to eventual champion UConn.
“If that’s a sign of what’s to come for basketball and our spring sports, yeah we’ve already had a great year,” Huchthausen said. “Even if we don’t duplicate that success for the rest of the academic year, I just think its a sign of where we’re going.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.