“THE CONVERSATION” Episode #5, Richard Ensor ESQ., Commissioner Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC)

February 7, 2020

MAAC Commissioner Richard Ensor Still Going Strong After 32 Years With The Conference

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Photo: Manhattan College Athletics

A proven leader in intercollegiate sports, event management and law for over three decades, Richard J. Ensor was named the third Commissioner of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in August 1988. Ensor has provided leadership in a period of conference realignment and growth in intercollegiate athletics and the MAAC. During his tenure the MAAC has secured a stable membership base, expanded the number of championships conducted and developed an extensive marketing program cemented with broadcast agreements with ESPN, a web paged hosted by SIDEARM Sports and secured championship venues such as the Jim Whalen Boardwalk Hall (Atlantic City, NJ), Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and Disney Sports Attractions. During a time of tumultuous realignment and ethical challenges within NCAA Division I conferences the MAAC remains a homogenous association of private institutions of similar size and funding, which are committed to student-athlete excellence both on the playing fields and in the classroom. The MAAC’s graduation rate is yearly in the top 25% of all leagues and in August 2019 the MAAC again received a NCAA Public Recognition Award for its member schools placing in the top 10% in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate for student-athletes.

Ensor is a past member of the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee and past president of the Collegiate Commissioners Association (CCA). He serves on the boards of the Sports Lawyers Association, WBCA, Philadelphia Sports Congress, and NACDA’s IAAA ADs. He has just completed a two-year term on the NCAA DI Council where he served as chair of the Women’s Basketball Oversight Committee on which he will remain with a recent 4-year term renewal. Since 2017, Ensor has served on the Arizona State University Sports Law and Business Program National Advisory Board.

Under Ensor’s direction, the MAAC has focused efforts to showcase its member institutions in its annual men’s and women’s basketball championship. Since 1990 with the support of the MAAC Council of Presidents and the league’s athletic administrators and coaches the MAAC has held its premier event in state of the art playing facilities such as the Times Union Center in Albany, NY, the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY, the Sun National Bank Center (Trenton, NJ), and the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, CT.

The MAAC announced in 2018 that Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, NJ had been selected to host the 2020-22 MAAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships.  Boardwalk Hall will host the championships for the first time in history and conference will switch the dual championships to the last week of the season, generating increased excitement for the NCAA Selection Shows that occur that Sunday/Monday after the MAAC champions are decided.

In 2019 the MAAC also approved the hosting of its inaugural coed Esports Championships inn Atlantic City.  The 2020 championships will take place on March 13th and 14th in the Adrian Phillips Theater, which is part of Boardwalk Hall. The MAAC will be conducting championships for the following games: League of Legends; Overwatch; Rocket League; and, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. MAAC champions will receive bids to the national tournaments for the games under the MAAC’s membership in the Electronic Gaming Federation (EGF).

Instrumental in the expansion of MAAC sports offerings to reflect the MAAC’s commitment to Division I membership and diversity Ensor guided efforts within the MAAC beginning in 1992 to add women’s soccer, in 1996 men’s lacrosse, and in 1997 women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s indoor track and rowing. In 1998, the MAAC added outdoor track and field and women’s golf, and in 2002-03 it added women’s water polo. The league currently sponsors 23 sports and is awarded automatic or play-in bids to 15 NCAA championships [baseball, softball, tennis (m&w), golf (m&w), basketball (m&w), lacrosse (m&w), rowing (w), soccer (m&w) water polo (w), and volleyball (w)]. Additionally, MAAC men’s and women’s cross country have access to the NCAA championship through a regional qualifier race. Over half the MAAC sponsored sports now have direct access to NCAA Championships for the first time in the history of the conference. (Up from 13 sports and two automatic bids in 1988).

To award its fans, arena partners and membership, provide staff training and networking, the MAAC during Ensor’s tenure has been very aggressive in seeking out opportunities to host NCAA Championships in various sports. With member schools it has served as a co-host of the 1995, 2000, 2004, 2007 and 2010 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament First and Second Rounds at the Times Union Center and the KeyBank Center 2014 2nd & 3rd rounds, respectively, and the 2003 NCAA Men’s Basketball East Regional at the Albany, NY arena and the 2003 and 2019 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four at the Buffalo venue. Additionally, the MAAC co-hosted the 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2016 NCAA Northeast Cross Country Regional at Van Cortlandt Park – Bronx, NY. In 2002, the MAAC was a co-host of the NCAA Division I Wrestling Championship at the Times Union Center, and it repeated as host in 2011 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. The MAAC co-hosted the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament First and Second Rounds at the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton, NJ in 2006 and then hosted the Trenton Regional at the same site in 2009. In 2013 the MAAC hosted the regional again, this time at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, CT, and in 2018 and 2019 it co-hosted the regional again at the Times Union Center in Albany, NY with Siena College.

Upcoming hosting commitments include the  2021 WBB Regional in Albany NY, and the 2020 & 2022 MBB First/Second Rounds with Albany hosting in 2020 and Buffalo in 2022.

Ensor, who spearheads the league’s marketing efforts, has sought to tie the conference’s strong academic image into its marketing campaign. The MAAC has carved a well-earned niche as an athletic conference that balances quality academics and athletics.

In 2016, the MAAC announced a new 8-year agreement with ESPN which includes broadcasts annually on ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN+ including men’ and women’s basketball and championships from ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, FL. The deal also formalizes the launch of ESPN3 school production facilities at all MAAC schools which will produce upwards to 600 broadcasts a year by 2025-26. The MAAC assisted with the launch of ESPN+ in April 2018, as it had done previously with ESPNU and ESPN3. Ensor has long championed as association with ESPN’s brand, and in the first-year of the new agreement the MAAC broadcasted 325 competitions, including 32 on the new ESPN+ VOD platform, 281 on ESPN3, 11 on ESPNU and 1 on ESPN.

In 2019 the MAAC announced a new sponsorship sales representation 8-year agreement with Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment which will manage the multimedia rights and negotiate and execute corporate sponsorships on the Conference’s behalf. Van Wagner will work to enhance event-driven experiences for the Conference while creating a year-round brand presence for sponsors, member institutions and their fan bases through sponsorship sales, promotions, event production, broadcast rights and marketing initiatives.

The MAAC, along with Walt Disney World Resorts, enters its 20th year of hosting MAAC Championships in Lake Buena Vista, FL. The championship operation at Disney allows the MAAC to provide its participating student-athletes, their families, and fans a world-class sports championship experience. During the championship weekend in Disney, student-athletes have access to the playing facilities, on-site hotels, theme parks, and an awards banquet held after hours in one of Disney’s theme parks. These are designed to provide lasting memories for the student-athletes, recruiting opportunities for the coaches and world-class broadcasts. The new agreement continues ESPN live broadcasting elements for all championships and events. ESPN’s state-of-the-art studios broadcast highlights of MAAC championships throughout all Disney World Resort hotel properties on the ESPN channels and MAAC.TV.

In conjunction with Disney Sports and ESPN the MAAC has co-hosted the Orlando Invitational (previously the Advocare/Old Spice Classic) at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex since 2006. This eight-team tournament, which is held over Thanksgiving weekend, continues to draw elite Men’s Basketball teams to compete. One MAAC school is included in the field each year. Fairfield University will represent the MAAC in the 2019.

The MAAC Men’s and Women’s Golf Championships are also held at Walt Disney World. The golf hosting agreement at Disney was recently extended through the 2022 championships. For the seventh year in a row the 2020 MAAC Men’s & Women’s Golf Championships will take place at Disney’s Magnolia Golf Couse.

In 2017 the MAAC expanded it brand internationally with the launch of the Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic in Northern Ireland. Manhattan College was the first MAAC team to participate in the MTE which was also the first regular season NCAA Division I basketball game ever played in Europe.  The MAAC works with the BBHOF to sponsor several basketball MTEs including the Mohegan Sun Classic and one-day events in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Miami, Toronto and Atlantic City.

The Belfast Classic developed out of the MAAC’s partnership with the Sports Changes Life Foundation in Belfast. The primary goal of the Sport Changes Life Foundation is to provide an opportunity for raising the aspiration of young people on both sides of the Atlantic so that they can live out their dreams and guide them as sport changes their lives. The foundation mission is built on inspiration, hope and victory. SCL works in disadvantaged communities to help young people find a path to a brighter future with the help of international student-athletes, the Victory Scholars, many of whom have played men’s and women’s basketball in the MAAC.

A 1975 graduate of Saint Peter’s University, Ensor has served in many administrative capacities in college sports including positions at his alma mater, Saint Louis University and Seton Hall University. In 1982, Ensor was awarded a Master’s degree in sports management with honors from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. An attorney, Ensor graduated from Seton Hall University’s School of Law in 1987 and was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in June of that year. He has taught as an Assistant Professor in Sport Management at UMass, where his concentration was on sports marketing and sports law, and as an adjunct at Seton Hall School of Law.

Ensor is a member of many professional associations, including the American Bar Association. In addition, Ensor is a member of sport-related associations such as the Sports Lawyers Association, the New Jersey Bar Association Sports Law Committee, the American Bar Association, Forum on the Entertainment and Sports Industries, Philadelphia Sports Congress, NACDA and the CAANJ. In 2017, Ensor was elected Treasurer of the Sports Lawyer’s Association.  His community work has included terms as a board member of the Mercer County Sports & Entertainment Commission and the Monsignor Donovan High School Leadership Advisory Committee. He has published in the areas of Sport Law, and Sport Marketing. In 1994 Ensor served as chair of the New Jersey Bar Association Sport Law Committee.

A member of the Collegiate Commissioner’s Association (CCA), Ensor served as President of the association from 2007-09. He will serve as chair of the CCA DI Subdivision for 2019-21. Ensor has been very involved in NCAA governance since 1999 when he began a four-year term on the NCAA Division I Management Council, a segment of the new national governing system for the intercollegiate sports association. He represented the CCA DI membership on the Council from 2017-19. Ensor had previously served on the old NCAA Council and in January 1996, he served as Chair of the Division I-AA NCAA Convention/Business Session. Since 2016 he has served on the NCAA Nominating Committee.  He previously served on the Division I Championships Cabinet where he chaired the exempted events subcommittee. Ensor has also served on the NCAA Division IAA Governance Committee and on NCAA committees dealing with playing season exemptions, athletic certification, and the regulatory culture of the NCAA, governance restructuring and antitrust issues. Ensor was appointed in 1996 and 2003 to a one-year term as the chair of the IAA commissioners. From 1999-2003 he served as Secretary/Treasurer of the Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners Association.

In 2007 Ensor extended his involvement with national issues when he was appointed to a 5-year term on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Committee. The committee is charged with annually selecting teams, seeding, bracketing and operating the NCAA Women’s Basketball Championship including the Final Four.

In 2001 Ensor was named by the American Football Foundation as its Commissioner of the Year and in 1999 he was presented a Distinguished Service Award from the Metropolitan Basketball Writers and in 1998 was inducted into the Saint Peter’s University Hall of Fame. He also is a member of the Monsignor Donovan HS Hall of Fame. In 1996, the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Sport Management Program named Ensor as the recipient of the VanderZwaag Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 1989, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities named Ensor as one of the “Leaders of Service” in its Bicentennial Series publication. In 1993, Ensor was honored by NACWA as a “Good Guy” for his efforts regarding gender equity. In 2004 Ensor received a Mouscar from Walt Disney World for his efforts to make dreams happen for the MAAC’s student-athletes participating in championships at ESPN Wide World of Sports. In 2016, he was honored by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for his leadership in basketball and contributions to the game. The WBCA has honored Ensor twice for his contributions to women’s basketball with the coach’s association’s Presidents Award in 2014 and as its Administrator of the Year in 2015.

Ensor and his wife Deirdre, who is a Registered Nurse, are the parents of Kaitlin, Brendan, Kiernan, and Colleen. They reside in Lanoka Harbor, NJ.

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