LACEY – Rich Ensor’s first act as Commissioner for the Metro Atlantic Sports Conference was to purchase a computer for each of the league’s athletic directors.
“I said, ‘This is how you are going to communicate with me,'” he recalls.
That was 1988. Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Fresh from a series of major changes, college basketball introduced the shot clock, 3-pointers and 64 NCAA teams. The eight-team MAAC was spotlighted by La Salle, who rose to national prominence with the sport’s ultimate player, Lionel Simmons. None of the conference games were televised. If you wanted to see them, you had to go to the gym.
“It was a different world,” Ensor said Thursday from his home in the Port Lanuka section of Lacey, where he was hosting a pool party for MAAC employees. He is a believer in Ocean County, where he grew up in Brick and attended St Joseph High School in Toms River (now Donovan Catholic), where he worked as the principal of the soccer team.
more:After 17 years, Holloway inspired J.R. Morris of Seton Hall to go back to school
Now 69, Ensor starts 35 years oldThe tenth and his final year as an MAAC commissioner, making him the longest-serving president of a conference in the history of a Division I NCAA. The league is coming out of a crucial moment. Peter’s arrival at the Elite Eight of March Madness was a kind of farewell party for Ensor, who had entered college and broke into work there.
“No one is giving you a guide on how to be a delegate,” he said. “I had no idea what I was getting into, but the main thing for me was that I was always comfortable representing these schools.”
Is he comfortable with the trend of college sports as the landscape undergoes seismic changes? This is what he said on some hot topics.
About the future of Big Dance
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey recently made waves by proposing significant changes to the March Madness format. He’s known Ensor Sankey, who hails from upstate New York who once ran a mid-range convention, for decades.
“He says things like that because he has people to deal with,” Ensor said. “He doesn’t want to mess with the basketball championship.”
As Ensor pointed out, what really bothered Sankey were the insults against the SEC by the NCAA Baseball Selection Committee (college baseball is huge in the Southeast). Conclusion: Shake your swords on the basketball tournament, and work your way up as the baseball tournament expands.
“It’s a leverage,” Ensor said.
“There are always some coaches who think he should be within the sub-0.500 conference record, that he finished eighth in his conference but should be in the championship over Saint Peter’s,” Ensor said, with The Big Dance. The run was a definitive refutation.
“We add a lot of value to that tournament,” Ensor said. “St. Peter’s was the biggest story of the year. (The Great Commissioners) hear it from their media partners, by the way – ‘Don’t mess with something that works really well.’ These schools make it fun, otherwise the first and second rounds would be boring.”
Change the transfer rule
Within weeks of St Peter’s motivating the nation, Shaheen Holloway and his coaching staff went to Seton Hall and the top seven players were transferred. It was an unprecedented dismantling thanks to the year of the sit-in canceling the transfers.
“That’s really what we’re dealing with right now,” Ensor said. We are harmed by it in some cases, but we benefit from it in others. Does Saint Peter benefit? No, but these kids got the chance to play at a higher level. I see the pros and cons.”
One big trick?
“I would put more protective barriers around it as far as academics are concerned,” Ensor said. “People who commute too many times will lose their credits and not graduate. We may be two years away from seeing the outcome of all this.”
The eight-team MAAC Ensor inherited included La Salle, Army, Holy Cross and Fordham (all now elsewhere). There are currently 11 teams, with Monmouth leaving Colonial Athletic and Mount St Mary’s.
“Am I sad leaving Monmouth? Yes, because it’s a really good school, and by the way, I can go to their games on my way home from work (at MAAC headquarters in Edison),” Ensor said with a chuckle. “But it was a football decision. I understand that.”
He said that the reorganization is part of the fabric, and has been shaped since the Great East by the ECAC raid in the late 1970s. MAAC has been illegally robbed and climbed.
“I think we’ll probably get to 12 (schools), and it could (to be decided) this year,” Ensor said. “We’re talking to two schools.”
Long-term stability of the NCAA
“Since the day I started this business, there has always been a threat of major companies leaving,” Ensor said. Power conferences, he asserts, “get whatever they want anyway.” Why are they responsible for organizing 26 NCAA Championship events – each a huge logistical task?
“Will they run ice hockey? Two-thirds of ice hockey schools are not majors,” he said. “Will they run lacrosse? They don’t want to do all that. The NCAA serves its purpose. Take your football and do whatever you want with it – make it professional, because that’s where you’re headed – and leave the rest alone, with basketball being the main cornerstone.”
“Some Jersey Stands”
Exclude Ensor Insights at your own risk. In a field that switches between CEOs, he survived that long because he can read a room. In 1988 he signed to MAAC on its first television deal, earning eight men’s basketball games on SportsChannel; Last year, 646 MAAC sports events appeared on various ESPN platforms. The league sponsors 24 sports now, 11 more than it did in 1988, with the NCAA Auto Championship playoffs in 15 of them (versus two when it started). He has sponsored a series of non-conference events for MAAC basketball teams, including exhibitions in Orlando, Ireland and England.
MAAC has been good to him, too. Three of his sons attended MAAC colleges without tuition (a fourth went to MIT and became a nuclear engineer), and the association presidents trust him.
“They have given me a lot of freedom over the years,” he said.
His term was finalized in March. After St Peter’s Kentucky stunned, Holloway was asked how his team avoided putting pressure on him physically.
“Do you think we’re worried about men trying our muscles?” Holloway said, referring to the roots of his main schedule. “we do that.”
It became familiar to Ensor after 34 years as a mid-level defender who was very tough on his muscles.
“I’m a Shore boy with some jersey attitudes,” he said. “I’m not looking for problems, but I don’t let anyone bomb the MAAC.”
Jerry Carino has covered the New Jersey sports scene since 1996 and has beaten college basketball since 2003. He is one of the top 25 voters for the Associated Press. Call him at firstname.lastname@example.org.