WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — America East women’s basketball coaches have longed for the opportunity to host the conference tournament.
Most, whether for financial or logistical reasons, haven’t had the opportunity to do so.
Under the revamped postseason format, every women’s team at least has the chance to play the championship game on its home court, in front of its own fans.
That was the impetus for combining the 2010 men’s and women’s tournaments into one event at the University of Hartford.
“A lot of it was to really give that incentive on the women’s side that our men have had for a very long time,” said America East Commissioner Patrick Nero.
He explained the coaches of the women’s teams had pushed for the change after concerns about Hartford being selected as the tournament host for several years in a row.
The Hawks, a perennial women’s power, still have an advantage by hosting the first three rounds. But under the new format, which the men have used for 15 years, the highest remaining seed — based on regular season record — earns the right to play the championship game on its home court, with a week to prepare.
Nero pointed to last season, when Boston University was the No. 1 women’s seed, but had to play Vermont at Hartford in the final. Under the new system, it would have been in Boston.
Nero also harkened back to UMaine’s better years, such as in 2003, when UMaine was ranked No. 1 and would have played the title game in Orono, but instead lost to Boston University at Hartford.
“On our men’s side, we have had five regular-season champions in five years,” Nero said. “We’ve had five different programs be able to host that championship game.”
The early buzz is that most players, coaches and fans support the combined format. Tournament crowds appeared to be significantly larger at most sessions, since fans had the chance to cheer on their men’s and women’s teams at the same venue.
“Logistically, we were a little bit concerned with 18 teams just how we were going to manage all of that, but that’s gone very well,” Nero said.
“I think for the fans and for the student-athletes, it’s been a great experience.”
Vermont fans demonstrated their unity, turning out in large numbers for the Catamounts’ men’s quarterfinal Saturday night. That group included the UVM women’s team, which cheered on the men’s squad.
“If your team loses you don’t have to leave, because you have another team to root for,” Nero said.
“We’ve had a lot of overlap between the men’s and the women’s fans.”
While no decision has been made on the future of the championships, it appears the combined format has been a success. The only viable alternative would appear to be reverting to the previous format, under which the tournaments were played at separate venues — one week apart.
Nero said America East doesn’t have a large enough staff to conduct simultaneous, separate events. That also would tax schools’ cheerleaders, bands and staffs.
Binghamton stays home
Despite an offseason and preseason marked by a head coach firing and players being kicked off the Binghamton University men’s basketball team for numerous team and school rules and code violations, the Bearcats managed to finish fifth in the America East conference standings.
Despite the solid job turned in by the remaining team members and interim coach Mark Macon, BU president Lois B. DeFleur announced last week that the team would not participate in this weekend’s conference tournament.
In a press release, DeFleur said “This action is being done voluntarily as part of our commitment to move forward as we develop a comprehensive plan to address the recommendations of the recent review [of the program].
“We commend our student-athletes and coaches for the dedication and determination they have maintained throughout this very challenging year. They have far surpassed expectations. However with the controversy currently surrounding the program it is not appropriate we play in this year’s postseason.”
BU’s decision meant AE officials had to shuffle the tournament seedings, sliding the Nos. 9, 8, 7 and 6 seeds one spot upward and eliminating the traditional “play-in” preliminary game between the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds.
That meant third-seeded Maine played No. 6 New Hampshire and not Hartford, who was originally seeded sixth after winning a tiebreaker with UNH. Hartford took over BU’s vacated No. 5 seeding.
Maine spent its first two days of practice last week preparing for Hartford.
Maine swept the regular season series against both UNH and Hartford.