Travis Tellitocci’s path to becoming MAAC Commissioner started with a retreat and a van ride.
The West Virginia native was announced as the league’s next commissioner on Feb. 7, replacing Rich Ensor, who has been in the role since 1988, at the end of the academic year. Prior to getting the role, he served as the Ohio Valley Conference’s assistant commissioner for football, basketball, and officiating since 2016.
Tellitocci can trace his roots back to Marist, as he went to a Catholic high school in his home state that happened to be run by the Marist Brothers. During his senior year, he went on a retreat to the Marist Brothers Center at Esopus, just across the Hudson River from Marist’s campus. After a quick stroll around campus, his mind was made up.
“I just really fell in love with the place,” Tellitocci said. “I went back to West Virginia and told my parents that this is where I think I want to go to college. I knew I wanted to get into communications and do an internship, and obviously, Marist’s proximity to New York City was very attractive. So after a little bit of convincing, they agreed.”
Tellitocci acclimated quickly. On the first night of his freshman year in Leo Hall, he met several friends who ended up in his wedding party.
As a communications student, he became involved with Marist College Television and WMAR, the student-run radio station. Tellitocci did what every class of sports communication students are told upon arrival at Marist; he took advantage of his opportunities.
“I just tried to get involved in the campus as much as I could,” he said. “It was important to get involved with MCTV and WMAR and my senior year, I ended up being the president of MCTV.”
Eventually, it became clear to Tellitocci that being on-air wasn’t for him. In his junior year, he interned with Marist Athletics, paving the way for more exciting opportunities.
“[Marist Athletics] got a letter from the New York Mets just asking for anyone on campus who was looking for internship opportunities,” Tellitocci said. “I ended up applying and getting an internship…it’s just another example of trying to take advantage of every opportunity.
Tellitocci also interned with CBS Sports, but when it came time to graduate in the spring of 2004, Tellitocci immediately went back to Queens.
“I graduated from Marist on a Saturday and I was working for the Mets on Monday,” Tellitocci said.
His official role for the Mets was as Associate Producer for Scoreboard and Entertainment.
“My responsibility was to oversee all of the pregame entertainment on the field. So, to book the national anthems, the first pitches, the color guards, the flyovers, all of those things that really went into that pregame presentation,” Tellitocci said.
He enjoyed his time with the Mets, but quickly realized he wanted to work in events and marketing rather than video production. He returned to his alma mater in the summer of 2006, taking a role as Assistant Athletic Director for External Affairs.
“I left the Mets in July and we were in the middle of a great season,” Tellitocci said. “Everyone thought I was crazy, but I really saw Marist as a great place to expand my career.”
Back in Poughkeepsie, Tellitocci’s new role saw him work with the Red Fox Club (Marist’s official booster club), handle media relations, and take on marketing tasks such as selling sponsorships. Under his eye, there were Bobblehead nights for former Marist women’s basketball coach Brian Giorgis and Rachele Fitz (the women’s basketball program leader in points, rebounds, and games played), a Shooter the Fox Build-a-Bear night and fireworks at nighttime football games.
One of Tellitocci’s favorite memories centers around a Marist-Siena men’s basketball game at the McCann Center back in February 2007. The Red Foxes came into the game with a 22-7 record and a chance to clinch the MAAC regular season title over the Saints.
The excitement on campus was palpable and only grew once it was revealed the game would be broadcasted on ESPN2. The only issue was the tipoff time, 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, which is a notoriously quiet time on campus.
Tellitocci did what he could to capitalize on what seemed like a less-than-ideal situation.
“I really saw that as an opportunity to market it and do something different,” Tellitocci said. “So we ended up doing like a breakfast before the game with the coach at that time and you know, it was a sellout crowd. We did a white-out… and it was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been a part of even to this day.”
To top it off, the Red Foxes won in overtime.
Making the school look good and building excitement for a one-time national television appearance is one thing. Leading a rebrand of the Marist logo, which Tellitocci did in 2008, was an entirely different animal.
One of Tellitocci’s first steps was to compile all the different variations of the Marist logo, of which there were upwards of 30. It took some work to convince former Marist president Dennis Murray and athletic director Tim Murray to go ahead with the project, but the school ultimately decided to harness its brand and revamp its look.
The primary changes included adding more red to the logo, which previously featured a prominent black “M” and putting the word “Marist” to the right of the now-more-prominent red fox.
“Was it popular by everybody?” Tellitocci said. “No, I mean, that’s a lot of pressure to that you’re changing something that people have been accustomed to for many years. And the goal is to try to make it better and enhance it, which I think ultimately we did, but it wasn’t without a lot of struggle.”
Tellitocci also helped get the Red Fox Network off the ground. Calling back to his time with MCTV, he advocated for putting a control center in McCann and directed the network’s first broadcast.
After working his way up from assistant director of external affairs to deputy athletic director while also earning a Master’s Degree, he departed for the OVC offices in Nashville, TN in September of 2016. He made the move to the assistant commissioner for football, basketball, and officiating role with the support of Ensor and Tim Murray.
Even with all he accomplished at Marist, the move was still risky.
“I applied, got the job, and moved to Nashville without knowing a soul,” Tellitocci said. “ My youngest son was about a month old, so I took the family down. It was scary. Just taking that jump of not knowing anybody down here and taking this position, but it worked out really well.”
After spending a decade working for a single institution, he now found himself trying to manage all the member institutions of a conference. He was now in a league that carried football and had successful men’s basketball schools like Belmont and Murray State, but he also had to deal with perspectives from 11 different schools.
“Everybody’s in a different area. Everybody’s got different resources,” Tellitocci said. “What you’re trying to relay to the conference members is that in order to be successful, the whole really has to be greater than any of its parts. So you’re only as good as your weakest link.”
In his role, Tellitocci served as the primary staff liaison for the OVC’s head football, men’s and women’s basketball, and football coaches while also working with the league’s coordinators of officials. He got the chance to serve as the tournament manager in 2018 for the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA Tournament for games played in Nashville and began a four-year appointment on the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Competition Committee in 2020.
Eventually, a new opportunity presented itself in September 2022. Tellitocci knew there was a possibility Ensor might retire, and his suspicions were confirmed when a search firm contacted him to gauge his interest in becoming the next MAAC commissioner.
A four-month interviewing process ensued, with Tellitocci undergoing meetings with school presidents and athletic directors. He discussed his time with the Mets, Marist and the OVC, conveying how those opportunities prepared him for the job.
“I had three very unique experiences,” Tellitocci said. “I worked for a professional sports organization, worked on a college campus and I worked in a conference office. So seeing athletics really through three very different lenses, I think has really prepared me for this opportunity.”
Now, he steps into the role of MAAC Commissioner at a time when college sports are in flux. Basketball, the league’s most marketable sport, has been hit hard by the transfer portal. On the men’s side, nearly 50 players have committed to or are looking to depart for new schools.
Tellitocci’s tenure may see some significant changes, not just to the MAAC, but the entire structure of the NCAA. Name, image, and likeness (NIL) reform has been a hot topic, and while schools such as Iona and Siena have established collectives to help get potential deals and compensation for athletes, the rest of the conference risks being left in the dust.
New York, which is home to six MAAC schools, does not have any NIL legislation in place at the state level. In an interview with WAMC in Albany, Tellitocci raised the possibility of evaluating NIL from the conference office level.
While navigating these early challenges, Tellitocci has emphasized staying proactive in the ever-evolving landscape.
Now finding himself ready to step into the job, there’s no denying that one ride over the Mid-Hudson Bridge altered the trajectory of his life forever.
“I always said if I’d never got into that van that day, how my life would be completely different.”
Edited by Luke Sassa and Dan Aulbach
Photo from Marist Athletics