The consummate commissioner: A thank you to Rich Ensor

By Carolo Pascale

The word consummate is synonymous with being skilled, exemplary, accomplished and professional, and Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Commissioner Richard J. Ensor has been all of those throughout his illustrious career as commissioner.

From August of 1988 to now, Ensor, known as Rich to most people, has been the leader and voice of the MAAC. Ensor is the longest tenured NCAA Division I multi-sport conference commissioner and his 34 years of service makes it the longest Division I commissioner term in NCAA history. And with his 35th year nearing its beginning, Ensor announced on Aug. 17 that he will retire at the end of the 2022-2023 season.

“It has been a privilege to serve as Commissioner of the MAAC since 1988 and represent a conference dedicated to achieving success in academics and athletics,” said Ensor in the announcement. 

With soon to be 35 years dedicated to being commissioner of the MAAC, Ensor has helped evolve the conference since his arrival. The conference has grown from 13 sports to 24 in his tenure and even sponsored up to 26 in 2002-2003. 

Along with adding more sports, Ensor helped raise the MAAC’s NCAA Championship automatic qualifications from just two to 15 in his time leading the conference.

A total game-changer

Ensor has also been a huge proponent of equity and equality, and his incredible work with women’s sports, specifically women’s basketball, has been invaluable to the conference and D1 athletics as a whole. 

“Rich has had a huge impact on Women’s Basketball specifically during my time, not only just in the MAAC, but nationally. He is so well respected and represents the MAAC and other mid-major conferences on the national level,” said Rider Women’s Basketball Head Coach Lynn Milligan. “I truly appreciate what he has done to help women’s basketball in the MAAC move forward and be extremely relevant.”

Ensor played an integral role in combining the women’s and men’s basketball tournaments in 1992, having both tournaments run at the same time at the same neutral site for three decades, which is the longest running combined neutral site tournament in Division I.

His care for giving student athletes world class championship experiences has also played a huge part in the MAAC’s success. In 1998, the conference partnered with Disney’s Wide World of Sports (WWOS) and the partnership has expanded to have several of the conference’s sports host championships there annually. 

Ensor helped pioneer a deal with Disney’s Wide World of Sports (WWOS) in 1998 to host multiple athletic programs championships in Orlando, Florida annually.
Ensor helped pioneer a deal with Disney’s Wide World of Sports (WWOS) in 1998 to host multiple athletic programs championships in Orlando, Florida annually.

Ensor has also played a huge role in is getting the MAAC attention on a national level and helping to grow the game of basketball on an international scale. The MAAC has traveled to Japan, China, Ireland and England in Ensor’s tenure, with the conference going to Ireland for the MAAC/ASUN Dublin Challenge and England for the London Basketball Classic this fall.

“I think Rich has done an unbelievable job being the commissioner in the MAAC. He’s done a good job of making our league visible,” said Men’s Basketball Head Coach Kevin Baggett. “I just know that this next commissioner has some big shoes to fill in all the wonderful things that Rich has done over these past 35 years. Rich eats, sleeps and breathes the MAAC.”

And when stateside, the MAAC has been showcased on channels such as ESPN, MSG Network, SportsChannel-NY and more, but the partnerships with ESPN have been arguably one of the MAAC’s and Ensor’s biggest successes with him as commissioner. 

Ensor helped broker a deal in 1995 with ESPN that set in motion a great deal of success and growth for the conference that culminated in a 2014 deal that saw the launch of the MAAC branded ESPN3 channel and school produced ESPN3 broadcasts. And in 2016, a new eight-year agreement with ESPN included annual broadcasts of the conference on ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3 and ESPN+. 

“I believe one of the best things the conference ever did was partnering with ESPN to bring live telecasts to any device that employs the ESPN Watch App,” said Pete Janny, former sports editor of the Quadrangle, who graduated from Manhattan College in 2022. “That was totally a game-changer for me, and I’m sure my counterparts at other MAAC schools probably feel the same.”

The agreement also launched the ESPN3 school productions into a new era with all MAAC member institutions having fully operational ESPN facilities/trucks and all schools producing and broadcasting games to ESPN.

‘I was always taken care of’

Along with the addition and enhancement of the ESPN school productions, Ensor has been a major proponent of student journalism in the conference, and has left a major impact in that regard. 

Within power-5 and high major conferences, it is incredibly difficult for student journalists to talk to players and coaches, let alone the commissioner of that conference. But Ensor has been nothing short of a blessing for the MAAC’s many student journalists. 

“Rich has definitely been a huge help for student journalists all across the MAAC and it’s great to see a conference commissioner be such an advocate for them,” said Aidan Joly, former Editor-In-Chief and sports editor of the Canisius Griffin, who graduated from Canisius College in 2022. “ I feel like in a lot of other instances student media is seen as second-class, but definitely not in this case.”

Something that several student journalists praise Ensor for is his availability for interviews, questions, or even just to talk,especially during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That moment in Atlantic City in 2020, when he announced the tournament was shutting down, he became very accessible to myself, and other student media too,” said former sports editor of The Rider News, Dylan Manfre ‘22, “Especially with COVID-19, Rich was very open with that stuff when a lot of other people weren’t.”

Something special that many of the sports editors in the conference look forward to is the MAAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournament in Atlantic City. At the tournament, Ensor makes sure that everyone has a seat at the table and is taken care of. 

As mentioned by Joly, Ensor makes sure everyone has a chance to ask questions during press conferences and are all treated like professionals in every sense, but he also makes sure that all student journalists have great experiences while reporting on games.

“I don’t think the MAAC basketball tournament would be what it was without Ensor. As a student media member, I was always taken care of,” said Riley Millette, a graduate student at Quinnipiac University, and former sports editor of the Quinnipiac Chronicle. “More important than anything else was the amount of fun I had in Atlantic City and it starts at the top.”

And with Ensor’s last year as commissioner of the MAAC on the horizon, his replacement will have large shoes to fill. The conference has already announced that a national search will be conducted.

Until the year ends, every MAAC coach, student athlete, student journalist, and many others will get to work with Ensor for one final year, making it the best year they can, because that’s exactly the kind of work that he’s helped thrive for nearly 35 years, a truly consummate commissioner. 

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