Change Of Plans: MAAC Hoops Tourney In Atlantic City Will Allow Fans

Posted By David Danzis on February 26, 2021

Atlantic City got a shot in the arm earlier this week and the boost was almost immediate.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order Monday to allow a limited number of spectators for live events at larger venues.

On Friday, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference took advantage of the state’s relaxed position. Roughly 1,100 fans and family will be permitted to attend the 2021 Hercules Tires MAAC Men’s and Women’s Basketball Championships at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall.

The tournament tips off March 8. The men’s and women’s championship games will be held on March 13.
No tickets will be sold to the public.

MAAC was ready to ball without fans

The conference’s decision to allow spectators was motivated by Murphy’s easing of coronavirus-related restrictions.
NJ will permit 10% occupancy of a 5,000-seat indoor venue and 15% at outdoor events, beginning March 1. Social distancing and masks will be required.

Before Murphy’s EO, the MAAC Committee on Athletic Administration (COAA) had voted to not allow fans to any events through March. The committee met Thursday night and all 11 member schools agreed to have fans at the basketball games in Atlantic City.

“It is great that the recent executive order lifting attendance limits in athletic venues will allow us to accommodate a limited number of ‘Friend and Families’ of the teams, particularly the parents, siblings and children of the student-athletes and the coaching staffs,” said MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor.

Return of the MAAC …to Atlantic City

The 2020 MAAC Tournament was the last large event in Atlantic City. The games were abruptly halted on March 12 as COVID-19 began to spread across the U.S.

Murphy ordered AC’s nine casinos closed four days later. The gambling parlors did not reopen for more than 100 days.

The return of the MAAC basketball tournament, nearly a year to the day when it was forced to stop, is somewhat apropos.

“This is a significant first step in the return to athletic competition in New Jersey and the MAAC membership is pleased to be the first event in Boardwalk Hall since last March when the pandemic abruptly shut down March Madness,” Ensor said.

Safety first

The implemented policies to protect fans, players, and employees were made in conjunction with state and local health authorities, the CDC, and representatives from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), which oversees Boardwalk Hall.

The MAAC will regularly test players and team personnel in addition to daily self-health checks and universally accepted health practices.

Ensor said the conference expects a return to normalcy in 2022.

ESPN networks will air the MAAC tournament games.

‘Bettor’ luck next year gambling on MAAC in Atlantic City

From a March Madness betting perspective, at least in NJ, the MAAC tournament is off-limits. Or you could say off the boards.

Current NJ law prohibits gambling on collegiate events that take place anywhere in the state. The law also bans betting on NJ schools no matter where the athletic event is held.

The MAAC is made up of schools from the Tri-State area, including three NJ universities: Monmouth, Rider, and Saint Peter’s.

A bill was introduced last year to change NJ’s collegiate betting prohibitions. The proposal came shortly after the NCAA announced the return of March Madness basketball games to the Garden State. The Prudential Center in Newark will be home to the 2025 East Regional with Seton Hall University as the host school.

“This is an important opportunity we have to capitalize upon,” said state Sen. Paul Sarlo, the bill’s sponsor.

NJ was the nation’s largest legal sports betting market in 2020. NJ sportsbooks took over $6 billion in wagers last year.

“We need to support and sustain this growing market that is fast becoming a significant part of our regional and state economies,” said Sarlo. “March Madness is a high-profile event on the sports betting calendar and we should be a key player.”

Photo by AP/Hans Pennink
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David Danzis

David Danzis is an award-winning journalist who has covered business, politics, government, education, and sports in New Jersey. Most recently, he wrote about Atlantic City casinos, online gaming, and sports betting for The Press of Atlantic City. David is a graduate of Rutgers University.

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