If you visit the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference website, you won’t find any mention of Le Moyne’s unceremonious ouster from the league, even though it happened more than a month ago. If the MAAC is trying to keep the episode quiet, you can’t blame it–the league should be embarrassed.
The MAAC passed a new by-law on June 11 that left perennial league power Le Moyne looking for a new home. Worse for the Dolphins, the by-law took effect immediately, thus denying Le Moyne ample time to look for a new conference.
The MAAC voted to require each member of the conference to have all of its sports competing at the Division I level. Le Moyne competed in the MAAC for baseball and women’s lacrosse, but its other 14 sports competed at the Division II level. No other school was affected by the by-law change.
“I haven’t gotten an explanation,” Dolphins coach Steve Owens said. “The student athletes will be affected tremendously. Our recruits and players that are in here right now, we already had a schedule. They want to know why this happened, and I donâ€™t have an answer.”
The MAAC decided to allow Le Moyne to play out its 2008 league schedule, but the games will not count in the standings and the Dolphins will not be eligible for the conference tournament. That means Le Moyne, which returns most of the key players from a team that won the MAAC in 2006, could only make a repeat trip to the NCAA tournament if it earns an at-large bid–a very improbable scenario for a cold-weather team based in Syracuse, N.Y.
“It was very demoralizing and devastating, especially to our players, because they were all expecting to have the same opportunities they had last year,” Owens said. “You donâ€™t expect this to be sprung on you, you expect to have notice. That’s been the biggest issue–what’s the rush? If they were going to make the decision, why not give us the courtesy to give a year or two so our school could look to put us somewhere else?”
The Dolphins have the best record in the MAAC (285-103) since joining the conference in 1990. By booting them out, other conference teams might have made the path to the MAAC title a little easier, but Owens pointed out that losing Le Moyne will hurt the league’s Ratings Percentage Index, and scouts might be less likely to spend as much time scouting the league, resulting in less exposure for other players. In short, this was a very short-sighted move by the MAAC, executed in a classless fashion.
“I have never heard of one of the best–or the best–teams getting the boot in any conference,” Owens said. “Usually your conference wants to stay as strong as possible.”
Le Moyne will continue to compete at the Division I level. The school has begun contacting other conferences to explore its options for landing in a new league. Possibilities include the Northeast, America East and Atlantic-10 conferences and the Patriot League. Owens said the Dolphins have not ruled out joining a league that would require air travel, because the cost of a trip to some Midwestern city isn’t so much greater than the cost of a trip by bus to New York City.
And in the short term, the Dolphins know they must somehow make a huge splash in their early-season road trip against the likes of Wichita State, Oral Roberts, Kansas and Kansas State if they want even a chance to get back to a regional.
“We’re just going to try to rally our kids and say, ‘Let’s play and win as many games as we can and see what happens,’” Owens said. “Realistically, they know that the chance of an at-large NCAA bid in the northeast is very, very remote.”
I held off on posting this last week so I could give the MAAC a chance to respond, and league commissioner Richard Ensor was on vacation. Ensor has since sent me his official statement, which explains that this decision was aimed at furthering parity in the MAAC and it had been building for several years, but the league had held off out of respect for former Le Moyne coach and athletics director Dick Rockwell, who retired as AD shortly before the decision was made. Ensor also offered an explanation for the peculiar timeframe.
“The timeline for the decision was driven in large part by the MAAC bylaws that require associate memberships to be reviewed and approved each June at the MAAC Council of Presidents meeting,” Ensor said in his statement. “This is an annual process and as structured allows for quick additions and departures by associate members at either the school’s or conference’s initiative. Le Moyne was aware of the process and agreed to the standard by its willingness to join the MAAC and abide by its constitution and bylaws.”
Of course, no one is disputing that the conference had the right to give Le Moyne the boot, not even the Dolphins. But just because the league was allowed to kick the Dolphins to the curb on such short notice doesn’t make it right. Le Moyne was a model member of the league for 17 years, and it deserved better treatment.
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