Patriot League expansion means more headaches for coaches

Back in 1988, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women's basketball tournament was held in Westchester County, N.Y.

Third-seeded Fairfield, coached by Dianne Nolan, had to beat No. 2 Holy Cross, coached by Bill Gibbons, then No. 1 La Salle, which was led by guard Kelly Greenburg.

Nolan's club overcame both obstacles to earn the school's first MAAC title and NCAA Tournament berth.

Three years ago, Nolan came to Lafayette, a Patriot League school. That meant butting heads again with Gibbons, who is now in his 28th season at Holy Cross.

Starting next season, Nolan also will have to deal with Greenburg, who is now a peer leading a successful Boston University program.

Patriot League expansion is the reason for the reunion with Greenburg. There will be 10 teams in men's and women's basketball, with Boston U. and Loyola (Md.) becoming full-time members starting with the 2013-14 season.

And, while Nolan will enjoy her pre-game conversations with Greenburg, she won't be thrilled to have to deal with the Terriers and the Greyhounds.

"Those two fully funded programs will present a great challenge for us," Nolan said.

The men's and women's coaches at existing PL teams know expansion is good for the stability of the league, considering how the landscape of other mid-major and power conferences have changed in recent years. The future of Big East basketball is uncertain with the upcoming evacuation of the seven Catholic schools.

But with solid competition within a league comes concerns over job security for its coaches.

"From Day 1, our lives got more difficult," said American men's coach Jeff Jones, who is in his 13th season. "It's going to be that much harder to win the league.

"We didn't add two who are going to be in the bottom half of the league. Those two are going to challenge right away and probably on an annual basis."

Added pressure comes into play with the fact that the Patriot League has been a one-bid league every year of its existence on both sides.

Adding two teams to each equation reduces the odds of the current teams making the NCAA Tournament.

"I'd like to believe we'd become a multi-bid league," Bucknell men's coach Dave Paulsen said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen."

Currently, the Boston University women are second only to unbeaten Albany in the America East standings. The Loyola men are tied for second in MAAC.

There are other sides to the expansion. Scheduling can be a nightmare. Just ask Lehigh men's coach Brett Reed, who had to add local Division III team Muhlenberg to fill out this season's schedule.

Boston and Loyola bring the security of four more guaranteed games each season.

"The flip side is that we've all got two more home games we know we can bank on," Paulsen said. "Otherwise, we'd be replacing it likely with a road game somewhere else in a nonleague setting."

The coaches also believe it also allows them the opportunity to delve more into the Boston and Baltimore markets for recruiting.





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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