|In a new feature, America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen will address timely topics around the conference and intercollegiate athletics in a Question & Answer format on a quarterly basis at www.AmericaEast.com.|
Chatting With The Commissioner - July 19, 2012
Q: The America East had one of its best years ever. Can you reflect back on the 2011-12 season and some of the highlights that stand out to you?
A: There are several moments which really stand out to me with the most recent, Stony Brook's trip to the College World Series, being at the top of the list. Winning the Super Regional at LSU was monumental for the entire university and the conference. In fact, it is one of the best stories in all of college athletics over the past year.
Lucy Van Dalen's national championship in the mile at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships was also a special story. It was Stony Brook's first-ever national championship and third in America East history. Lucy was also selected as the America East Woman of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year and she'll be competing for New Zealand in the Summer Olympics.
We also had great moments in March when the Vermont men's basketball team won the conference championship, defeated Lamar in the NCAA tournament four days later and then put on a gutsy performance against North Carolina. On the women's side, it was fun to watch the UAlbany women's basketball team win its first-ever conference title and play tough against the defending national champion in the NCAA tournament. Seven basketball teams -- three men's and four women's -- played in a postseason tournament, more than we've ever had before.
The field hockey teams, collectively, had an incredible season, moving up to third in the NCAA conference RPI behind only the ACC and Big Ten. America East has become the premier field hockey conference in the Northeast, ranking above both the Big East and CAA and finishing the season with four teams in the top-20 national poll.
Finally, the America East had the third highest overall conference APR for the 2010-11 academic year, behind just the Ivy League and Patriot League of all 31 Division I conferences. This is a remarkable accomplishment for our student-athletes who take great pride in their academic success.
Overall, the success America East teams and student-athletes had this year is a true testament to the broad-based athletic mission we have for the conference and it was one of the league's finest years ever.
Q: Did your first year as commissioner go as expected?
A: Whenever you start a new job, it's a whirlwind of activity as you learn about the organization and how it operates. That's certainly been true in my first year. When I started in November, we had just begun our fall conference championships so everyone and everything was in high gear and it hasn't stopped yet. Having worked for the conference before, I was familiar with many faces and places which certainly made the transition a bit smoother. That said, much has changed in the 5 ½ years since I left so there is still much to learn. My approach was to begin with an open mind, open eyes and open ears as I visited with our presidents, athletics directors and other administrators on my initial tour around the league. Over the past several months, it's clear to me that our membership is ready and willing to do whatever it takes to move the conference forward. There have been some pretty honest conversations reflecting upon our successes, what works, what does not, how we can all hold each other more accountable and what it truly takes to improve the conference's position and change the expectations we have for ourselves. The primary objective for my first year was to re-engage our membership...to re-establish a sense of trust, transparency, honesty and collegiality in our conference's culture. I believe we've made great progress in that regard over the past several months. We have tremendous experience among our athletics directors, other administrators and our conference staff and I believe we're heading in the right direction.
Q: What were some of the key takeaways coming out of the Annual Meetings last month?
A: We had very productive meetings in June. The dialogue was positive as we continued our ongoing discussion about how to move the league forward. We made decisions to eliminate some policies implemented a few years ago as it became clear there was no longer support or data-based reasons to continue them. In regard to the future, we will continue to be more aggressive in our use of digital platforms and promotion of our league's success in both academics and athletics. Finally, our presidents are more engaged than ever and are committed to advancing the conference. It's exciting to see the energy within the league right now and, despite losing a member, the remaining members are focused on the future.
Q: Can you talk about Boston University's announcement to withdraw from the conference and how that will affect the way the conference operates this upcoming year and beyond?
A: It was certainly disappointing to learn the news as they've been a league member for over 30 years. Obviously, this presents an unfortunate circumstance for everyone involved, but I recognize that each institution needs to do what it believes is in its best interests. Similarly, the conference needs to do what it believes is in its best interests. Given that 23 of 31 conferences have seen membership changes in the last two years, we're certainly not unique or immune from the anxiousness regarding conference affiliation that has spread across Division I.
One issue that's attracted attention in the BU community is the conference rule that prohibits institutions who withdraw from participating in conference championships. To clarify a few things, this rule has been around for several years and all nine of our members were part of the discussions to adopt the rule. The rule applies to any institution that announces its intent to withdraw; therefore, it was not made specific to BU. All of our schools are aware of the rules applicable in this situation. Specifically, they know there is a time period for notice, an exit fee if that time period is not met and ineligibility for championships. Therefore, any school that contemplates withdrawal knows that its student-athletes will be ineligible for conference championships. Neither the presidents of the remaining schools nor I can speak to how BU's administration reconciled this consequence in its decision-making process...that's a question that should be directed to them. Our members simply applied the rules in place and that's precisely how governance is intended to work - rules are adopted by the membership and applied to all. If rules aren't applied, there is no reason to have them.
The bottom line is that all of our schools know the rule and its impact. We all make decisions every day for which we must accept responsibility, even if there are unfavorable consequences. This situation is no different. A decision was made by an institution with the consequences known in advance. It's not the duty of the remaining schools to relieve an institution's responsibility for its decision.
So, we're all moving on. We expect everyone associated with all nine schools to act in a professional and respectful manner in the coming year. While it's naïve to suggest there won't be tension at points, we expect all administrators, coaches, student-athletes and fans to remember who they represent and to do so in a positive manner.
The remaining schools are committed to moving forward together. There are obviously issues that we'll discuss regarding our league's future, but as I said previously, there is engagement by our members and we're heading in a forward direction.
Q: What's the best part of being commissioner of the America East?
A: This is truly a great conference with which to be associated. While it's been a whirlwind so far, I've enjoyed it immensely. In any job, it's the people with whom you work that determine your experience and chance for success. I work with a lot of people, both in our office and across our schools, and can say that everyone adds value to the conference in some way, which means we're well-positioned to accomplish great things. More importantly, though, there are quality individuals on every campus and in our office which makes it easy to spend hours in the office, on the road, on the phone, in meetings and at events working on behalf of such great people.
To be sure, there are challenges we have to overcome and the changing landscape of college athletics presents many unknowns, but we're prepared to move forward. The past year was one of the best ever for the America East and there is no reason to think that won't continue.