After more than two years in conference limbo, the University announced at a press conference this afternoon that it has been accepted into the North Atlantic Conference.
The decision was made yesterday at a meeting of NAC school presidents at Boston University. The NAC also accepted former University East Coast Conference rival Towson State University.
In addition, former University of Nevada Las Vegas assistant coach Jay Wright was introduced as the new men’s basketball coach. His appointment ends a nearly year-long search for a replacement for Butch van Breda Kolff, who retired at the end of the 1993-94 season.
The University Club was packed for the press conference, and it erupted into loud cheers when University cheerleaders held up the North Atlantic Conference banner.
But it is likely that no one in the Club was as happy as University Athletic Director Jim Garvey. Today’s announcement was the culmination of a three-year effort to find the University a better, more competitive conference.
“This has been a long time in coming,” Garvey said. “They say good things are worth waiting for.”
University President James M. Shuart said the school felt comfortable moving into the NAC.
“This is quite a comfortable move for Hofstra University,” Shuart said. “We are delighted at the opportunity to compete with institutions that are great at higher education and have a long tradition of athletic excellence.”
North Atlantic Conference Commissioner Stuart Haskell, who has been in contact with Garvey since 1991, was as pleased as Garvey and Shuart.
“We are pleased to have Hofstra in our conference,” Haskell said. “It’s obvious that they are happy to be in the North Atlantic Conference, but it is just as important—if not more so—for the North Atlantic Conference to have Hofstra.”
Haskell was impressed with the turnout at the University Club today.
“It’s hard to describe how happy we are to see you all here,” Haskell said.
Shuart then turned the podium over to Garvey, who introduced Wright. The 32-year-old coach receive an enthusiastic standing ovation as he shook hands with numerous members of the University administration.
According to Garvey, Wright was not on the short list of candidates as recently as two weeks ago. But the persistent voice of UNLV coach Rollie Massimino and a trip to Charlotte for the Final Four changed Garvey’s mind.
“I’ve known Rollie Massimino for many years, and he kept mentioning Jay,” Garvey said. “I kept telling him [Rollie] that we had seen enough coaches and we had narrowed it down to a core of finalists.
“But Rollie kept persisting and calling,” Garvey said. “So I decided to meet with Jay for what I thought would be 30 to 50 minutes during my stay in Charlotte. I ended up staying three hours. He really sold himself to me.”
All the attention seemed a bit overwhelming to Wright.
“I feel like the first pick of the NBA draft,” Wright said. “Thank you all for coming out.”
Wright said he was impressed by all facets of the University.
“I like the people at Hofstra,” Wright said. “I met with Jim Garvey, President Shuart, Mr. [Richard] Block and Harold Starks and I sensed a real commitment to Hofstra basketball. I realized this was a great opportunity to lead a great school.
Wright said he is looking forward to the opportunity to rebuild the University athletic program.
“I look at Hofstra as a sleeping giant,” Wright said. “The metro area is a mecca of basketball talent.
“Hofstra basketball will do three things,” Wright continued. “We will play very hard, we will play very together, and every player who puts on a Hofstra uniform will be proud to wear it.”
Today’s announcement officially ends the University’s 20-year association with the East Coast Conference. The ECC had gradually declined in status and disbanded after the 1991-92 season but reformed this year as a six-team league. It was ranked last among the 33 major Division I conferences this season.
The North Atlantic Conference is currently in its 15th year of existence and has grown in leaps and bounds over the last seven years. Until the 1987-88 academic year, men’s basketball was the only league sport but since that time the league has added nine mens sports (including baseball, lacrosse and soccer) and 10 women’s sports (including basketball, field hockey, soccer and volleyball).
Five sports (men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, men’s soccer and field hockey) receive automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament and the NAC softball champion participates in a “play-in” with the Northeast Conference champion. The winner of the series advances to the NCAA Tournament.
The eight current NAC members are Boston University, Northeastern, Hartford, Drexel University, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Delaware.