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Following move to CAA, America East bans Stony Brook from all conference championships

The Island Federal Arena, the home of Stony Brook basketball games. The America East Conference ruled that Stony Brook University’s athletic teams are ineligible for participation in postseason conference championships for all sports. ETHAN TAM/THE STATESMAN

The America East Conference announced on Wednesday, Feb. 2 that Stony Brook University’s athletic teams have been ruled ineligible for participation in postseason conference championships for all sports as a result of the school’s imminent move to the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA).

The decision was made unanimously by the conference’s Board of Presidents, and cited Conference Constitution Article 3.4 (b), which states that “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 championships.”

“Following our announcement that we will move to the Colonial Athletic Association, we were extremely disappointed to be informed by the America East that Stony Brook student-athletes would not be allowed to compete for conference championships and therefore the opportunity to earn NCAA team automatic qualification,” Stony Brook Director of Athletics Shawn Heilbron said in a public statement following the decision. 

This decision means that Stony Brook’s teams in all sports will be banned from receiving the America East’s automatic bid to each program’s individual NCAA Tournament. Both Stony Brook basketball teams were selected as preseason conference favorites, with the women’s team currently leading the conference with a 17-2 (8-1 AE) record, and the men’s team in second place with a 13-7 (5-2 AE) record.

“This is a rule that needs to go away, and we will do everything we can do advocate for those kinds of changes,” Stony Brook president Maurie McInnis said in an interview with The Statesman. “There are a very small number of conferences in the entire United States that have this rule that disqualifies athletes. I think this issue will attract considerable interest in the press and around the nation, because it is the students who are being punished in this decision.”

Historically, the America East does not receive at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, effectively destroying the Seawolves’ only path to March Madness. While the Stony Brook women’s lacrosse team — which was recently ranked No. 6 nationally in the Inside Lacrosse/IWLCA preseason poll — still has a strong chance of receiving an at-large bid, this announcement is a devastating blow to the Seawolves’ other spring sports teams.

Multiple prominent Stony Brook Athletics alumni criticized the America East’s decision, including Jameel Warney, the first Stony Brook player to reach the NBA, Kylie Ohlmiller, the NCAA Division I all-time leader in career points and assists for women’s lacrosse and Tom Koehler, a six-year starting pitcher in the MLB for the Miami Marlins.

“This decision does nothing to advance the interests of the conference, but instead punishes Stony Brook University’s talented student-athletes and runs contrary to the decision that the Board of Presidents made last spring when the University of Hartford announced they were leaving the conference,” Heilbron said. “As a result, Stony Brook plans to review all options, legal and otherwise, to address this decision.”

Hartford announced its departure from the America East last May as the university began transitioning its athletic program to the Division III level. However, all of its teams were eligible to play in the conference postseason and earn a shot at the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

The decision by the America East Conference to disqualify Stony Brook University student-athletes from Conference championships and as a consequence deprive them of the opportunity to earn NCAA team automatic qualification is unfortunate and inconsistent with the precedent the Conference set last spring when the University of Hartford announced its intention to leave the Conference,” Stony Brook University officials said in a statement to The Statesman. The University of Hartford’s student-athletes suffered no retribution or sanction.

In [the Hartford] meeting, my fellow presidents wholeheartedly endorsed the idea that student-athletes should be allowed to play, McInnis said.

The ruling is the latest in a string of canceled championships for Stony Brook’s student-athletes. The women’s basketball team was unable to compete in the 2020 championship game despite a 28-3 record because the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to wreak havoc in the United States. Stony Brook’s baseball team was deprived of the chance to win the conference title game last year as a result of inclement weather, even as regular season champions.

I think it only deepens that impact,” McInnis said. The America East has long been a conference that has spoken of the importance of the mental health of our student-athletes, and there is no doubt that the pandemic … has been difficult on all of them. And I’m sure this decision just adds to what has been a tough few seasons for them.

America East officials said the by-law was enacted in 2005, alleging support from Stony Brook. The America East also voted to prohibit Boston University from postseason contention in the 2012-13 academic year when it announced a move to the Patriot League a year in advance.

The time to eliminate this harmful rule is long overdue,” Stony Brook University officials said. “We will work diligently to advocate equitable change in the AE and CAA bylaws to reflect national best practices and our shared goal of supporting and protecting student-athletes.”

Stony Brook has been a member of the America East since 2001 but will move to the CAA, effective July 1, 2022. Stony Brook has also won the America East’s last two Commissioner’s Cups, awarded to the overall best-performing athletic program in the conference.

Jeremy Portnoy contributed reporting.

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