By Isaiah Rosario, Sports Editor
Effective in the fall of 2024, Sacred Heart University and Merrimack College will join the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference as full-member institutions.
Merrimack is home to 28 D-1 athletic teams and Sacred Heart is home to 33 D-1 athletic teams.
The membership committee of MAAC presidents and athletic directors looked at various schools in the hope of finding candidates to join the conference. The committee was focused on whether schools would increase the MAAC’s profile from both an academic and an athletic standpoint. After researching and looking for schools, the committee put Merrimack and Sacred Heart at the top of the list.
Merrimack will be the only school in the MAAC Conference to be located near the Boston area. Merrimack is located in Andover, Massachusetts, which is approximately 223 miles from Manhattan College. Sacred Heart is located in Fairfield, Connecticut which is about 48.9 miles from MC.
“Going into the Boston market helps us in a couple of different ways,” Travis Tellitocci, commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference said. “From an exposure standpoint, there are over 2.2 million homes in that region, it’s a top 10 media market, I think it brings a new fanbase into the fold again … the other part from an institutional standpoint is the ability to gather alumni in that area. A lot of our schools have alumni in the Boston area, now they’ve got their schools visiting Merrimack … I think that gives [schools] an opportunity to engage their alumni.”
In Merrimack’s first year in D-1, they were able to earn the honor of NEC men’s basketball, regular season and NEC tournament champions. Since Merrimack was in a transition year from D-2 athletics, they were unable to qualify for the NCAA Tournament despite being first in the NEC Conference. In March, Sacred Heart’s women’s basketball team was able to secure the NEC’s first win in the NCAA Tournament in conference history.
The MAAC does not sponsor four of Sacred Heart’s sports: football, men’s volleyball, field hockey, and women’s bowling. According to the Sacred Heart Athletic Director Judy Ann Riccio, they are continuing to look for what to do with these sports as they were sitting in the NEC Conference and we should expect an announcement in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, other sports like fencing and hockey are set with their respective conferences.
There has been a lot of conference realignment across the board nationally in D-1. Some of the major schools that have transitioned conferences are Oregon, the University of Southern California, the University of Oklahoma, the University of Texas and the University of Arizona. The mid-major conferences are now joining the likes of high-major conferences with the realignment and reconstruction of their conferences.
“There’s a lot of conference realignment going on, and that’s the name of the game, to make sure that you position your school in the best possible situation,” Riccio said when speaking about the main factors about joining the MAAC Conference. “I think for us, we were just ensuring that our programs competed with stability and our programs had access to the AQ for championships in sports for years to come, so that was our primary driver.”
Sacred Heart and Merrimack will join the likes of Mount St. Mary’s University, who left the NEC Conference to join the MAAC Conference last year.
With the expansion of 3 new schools in the past three years comes new challenges that schools in the MAAC have to face. It is important to many schools in the MAAC to ensure that their facilities are up to par with other schools in their conference to make sure that they can compete with their rival schools.
“We’re relying on loans and sponsorships to ensure to allow our student-athletes to excel in every level here at Manhattan College … we’re gonna have to think outside the box a little bit,” Manhattan College Athletic Director Irma Garcia said. “For us, it’s more numbers, student-athletes, maybe some sports do look at it that way, or maybe we get very generous people. We need some angels out there that supply and see the goodness because at the end of the day, it’s about the students and everybody looks at it that way.”
A meeting between the presidents and athletic directors is coming in the next few weeks regarding scheduling and travel as Merrimack is now farther out for some schools in the MAAC, Garcia said. With the expansion of the MAAC, a lot of schedules that were set in stone for next season are practically out of the window with the addition of these two teams. It raises the question of how the schedule will look for next year, whether we have one division or two divisions in the MAAC.
“What I like about this, is that there are conversations, that it’s not going to be in silos, and that the conference is not doing their own thing and they’re allowing us to think about it, and you can’t make rash decisions,” Garcia said. “For me to give you an answer right now, it’d be silly, right? I have to think about it after listening to my colleagues and how we all collectively can move the conference forward.”