When it was announced in December 2009 that the MAAC Basketball Championships would be played in Springfield, Mass. from 2012-14, those in favor of the move touted the fact that the MassMutual Center would be a neutral site.
The move came at a time in which the main tenant of the Times Union Center, Siena, ruled the MAAC and made three straight NCAA tournament appearances (winning a tournament game in two of those years). Administrators of the other nine (at the time) schools felt that playing a title game in a hostile environment was an incredibly difficult hurdle to overcome.
But with the move to Springfield there was a consequence: sparse crowds.
Just 1,493 fans took in last year’s MAAC tournament title game between Iona and Manhattan, and with the fan base with the shortest commute to Springfield (Siena) rooting on a struggling program those attendance numbers didn’t come as a surprise.
On Wednesday the MAAC announced that its basketball championships will return to Albany for three years, beginning with the 2015 version. Each of the 11 schools voted in favor of the move, with the economics of a return to Albany and a livelier fan atmosphere undoubtedly influencing the thinking.
“In evaluating the bids, as in the last bid cycle, the MAAC required that the league’s minimum financial, ancillary event hosting and budget thresholds be met by the bid cities,” said MAAC commissioner Richard Ensor.
“Albany and other sites met this standard, with the Times Union Center bid being selected because of its history of high attendance, downtown hotels and restaurants for the fans to utilize, and the experience of Albany’s Local Organizing Committee on hosting successful events with the MAAC and Siena College.”
Among those pleased with the decision is new Siena head coach Jimmy Patsos, who was campaigning for a return to Albany during his tenure as head coach at Loyola (MD).
“I’ve always said it’s great recruiting when you can tell recruits to watch your tournament in Albany,” Patsos said. “It’s crowded, big-time arena. It’s a bigger arena so it looks good.”
Patsos said the accommodations are difficult to beat.
“Hotels, restaurants, all the kind of stuff, it’s great,” Patsos said. “Easy to get to. The two best programs in drawing (fans) are us and the Marist women … Where else are you going to go?”
While Springfield certainly had its perks, one of which being the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the fact of the matter is that the city was outside of the league’s footprint.
Making the move back to Albany will pay dividends for the MAAC.
Raphielle can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.