The overall health of the America East conference appears to be strong.
The conference supports 18 sports and will include associate members from the West Coast next year in field hockey so they can keep their automatic qualifying bid for the NCAA championship, but the core still is the nine member schools. That group does not appear to be one that will change any time soon, with commissioner Amy Huchthausen dismissing the notion that NJIT may be joining.
“We’ve had as productive of a set of meetings over the last couple of years with our AD’s, and we have a bunch of new AD’s in the league now, and that has brought a new energy and a fresh set of ideas,” Huchthausen said. “That has been really invigorating and productive and our board has been as engaged as ever, so those are the leaders from the athletic standpoint at our schools and they’re all committed going forward talking about some great ideas to improve things in our league, whether its TV and digital network to championship and student athlete experience offerings, but everyone is very committed to the league at this point.”
Huchthausen would like to complete a contract with ESPN in the next year, while keeping the conference’s digital offerings at a high standard. The conference’s deal with ESPN expires after the 2015-16 season, which means beginning to negotiating an extension soon, while the conference is also trying to improve its own digital network of AmericaEast.TV offerings. Hutchthausen said it is her hope, that by this time next year, their future with ESPN will be settled and they will be able to continue their relationship.
“We’ve really been pleased with our ESPN partnership and I think their digital offerings are pretty robust and as sophisticated as any other major digital platform,” Huchthausen said when asked if they would consider shopping to other networks. “We’ll see. It’s been a great partnership, so I see no reason why that can’t continue, but you never know where these things end up, but certainly they’ve been a great partner for us and I hope that will likely continue in the future.”
Another concern—especially in light of the cost of attendance issues that have been brought out of the autonomy five structure—is that schools might be forced to cut programs. Huchthausen said how the schools will compete in the new structure is the biggest concern she has heard from the conference’s presidents and athletic directors.
“You’re always concerned about an arms race and keeping up with the schools that do have the resources and the big five conferences, so its always going to be at the same time, I think our folks have a good sense of reality,” Huchthausen said. “That financial gap has been there for a very long time, it’s not once the TV money started to make a difference, we haven’t been close enough financially in quite some time, so that’s always been our reality.”
“I think now it’s just recalibrating to say, okay it really is time to focus on our student athletes and making sure they’re getting a great student athlete experience regardless of what’s going on around us and around the country because I think we can still deliver that.”
That will likely come with trying to maintain the 18 sports that the conference sponsors. UMass Lowell added men’s and women’s lacrosse teams for this season and the league has maintained that they would like to make sure their sports remain strong.
“We are taking a look at what has, traditionally in our league, been called the sports of emphasis,” Huchthausen said. “We’re taking a look at that and that started really even before the whole governance restructuring autonomy and all that to really make an assessment on what does sports of emphasis mean, are these the right sports, how are our schools investing, what are our expectations. So we’ve been engaged in that for a while now and we’ll continue to sort of assess ourselves as a league in that way.”
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.
One thought on “America East Taking Cautious Approach To Sports”
Like it or not, one of the mid major conferences will be forced to accept NJIT. NCAA does not want independent schools. Could ne MAAC, though they have 11members. Patriot, CAA or AE. AE has only 9 members, lower of the 4. Seems filling voids with west coast teams while not accepting NJIT needs to be looked at. as knot may not have all the sports seems some schools from AE are afraid of njit for whatever reason. Njit will remain independent until the NCAA decides to flex its muscles.