Boston University’s athletic program has been the class of the America East Conference in recent years.
Seven consecutive times, the Terriers have earned the Stuart P. Haskell Commissioner’s Cup, which is awarded to the the most successful program based on the number of sports sponsored, winning percentage and postseason achievements.
Thus, it was a blow both to the stability and the credibility of America East when BU announced on June 15 that it is leaving the conference to join the Patriot League for the 2013-14 academic year.
BU is a charter member of America East, which was first known as ECAC North, a men’s basketball league formed in 1979.
Nobody should fault BU for making the move. The president and athletic administrators obviously felt as though it was in the best interests of its student-athletes over the long haul.
And Boston University made its decision knowing full well it might have undesired ramifications.
Its worst fears were realized when the America East Conference Board of Presidents voted recently to invoke a rule banning all BU athletic teams from league postseason play during 2012-13.
The bylaw reads: “Upon notice of an institution’s intention to withdraw from America East, the institution’s teams become ineligible, on a date to be determined by the remaining members of the Board of Presidents, to compete for Conference postseason championships.”
The conference enacted the rule in 2005, after Northeastern University of Boston left to join the Colonial Athletic Association.
America East is justified in excluding BU from postseason play. It views BU’s decision as a breach of solidarity and is looking out for its own interests by rewarding loyal member institutions.
Many conferences have implemented financial penalties of $1 million or more for schools that change league affiliation. The CAA recently banned three schools from postseason play after they announced their plans to join other conferences.
It is a tumultuous time in Division I college athletics. Changes are occurring most frequently in conferences at the highest levels of NCAA sports.
Still, there is a trickle-down effect for leagues at the “mid-major” level, including America East. Conference commissioners and school administrators are looking over their collective shoulders in fear of developments that might adversely affect them.
BU’s departure from America East is undeniably a blow to the conference, especially for some of the northern schools such as Maine, New Hampshire and Hartford. They have lost not only longtime rival, but a team that was a good geographic fit, especially when compared to far-flung league schools like Maryland Baltimore County, Stony Brook (N.Y.) and Binghamton (N.Y.).
If nothing changes in the meantime, America East will be down to eight schools during 2013-14.
However, losing BU likely will fast-forward the league’s willingness to entertain inquiries from potential members and its efforts to seek out similar institutions that can solidify America East’s position as a competitive Division I conference in the Northeast.
The unfortunate result of the Board of Presidents’ decision is that BU student-athletes — who had no say in the move to the Patriot League — will be denied the opportunity to win league championships and will be severely hampered in their efforts to qualify for NCAA championships.
With NCAA automatic bids unavailable to them, BU teams will be forced to compete for at-large bids to reach the championship. America East’s power rankings don’t usually enable league teams to build a resume worthy of serious consideration by NCAA selection committees.
BU’s athletes are the unwitting victims of the decision, but it was their own leadership that put them in this unfortunate predicament.
From the University of Maine’s perspective, the loss of BU means one fewer team to beat in the quest for an America East title in most sports. And the basketball championship will skip the first-round game and move directly into quarterfinal action.