By Shaun Chornobroff
The 2020 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were supposed to be a new age of postseason basketball for the conference.
After a long stay in Albany, the tournament was finally moved to a more neutral location at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Two tournaments later, Atlantic City still has not been able to host a full crowd due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless, MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor is hopeful to see a tournament more reminiscent of those held pre-pandemic after the upcoming basketball season.
“That’s the plan,” said Ensor when asked if he expected a more normalized tournament in 2022 during a call with the media on Oct. 20. “We’re moving forward just like we would have in a pre-Covid space. I think the one difference will be, at least for the short term until regulations change, fans will have to provide us, as they have to at any indoor arena, proof of vaccination or they will have to be masked. We’ll see how that works as we get closer to March.”
After a 2020 tournament that saw both Rider’s men’s and women’s teams’ chances at an NCAA Tournament berth end prematurely due to the COVID-19 outbreak and a 2021 tournament that limited attendance to family and friends, having a fanbase at this year’s conference tournament will be a welcome sight for the Rider community.
“I’m certainly hoping that our fans will come out and support us. This is as close to our backyard as you’re going to get,” said men’s basketball head coach Kevin Baggett in his time with the media that occurred on Oct. 21. “It’s around an hour drive, probably a little less than that [from Rider]. I’m hoping that we finally get the turnout that we know Atlantic City has the potential to be able to bring.”
Ensor said that he endorses the idea of a three-year extension of the conference’s contract in Atlantic City which is set to expire after this season.
Lynn Milligan, the head coach of the women’s basketball team at Rider, is ecstatic at the prospect of a long-term stay for the tournament in Atlantic City and is looking forward to the atmosphere of a fan-infested tournament that will kick off on Mar. 8.
“It’s exciting. Selfishly, I want the tournament in Atlantic City every year,” said Milligan, who led the seventh-seeded Broncs on an unexpected run to the MAAC Tournament semifinals in 2021. “I think they do a great job. It’s close for us obviously, but for this year, it’s year three that the MAAC is there. Fingers crossed, it’ll be what we were expecting that first year.”