Yes, you heard correctly...the NJIT Highlanders have already locked up the 2014 Independent Title and all of their players will be Independent All-Americans.
As of yesterday, the Highlanders are the nation's only remaining Independent after watching their whole "conference" disband. The Great West Conference is now dead as Chicago State, UT-Pan American, and Utah Valley went to the WAC and Houston Baptist moved on to the Southland. So when will the Highlanders get the call up?
As a fan and alum of a program that toiled eight years in the quagmire that is Independent status, I can't help but be sympathetic for NJIT. At this point I'm just curious what is holding the Highlanders back?
NJIT has a coach in Jim Engles who has done a phenomenal job turning around the program. In their first three years NJIT lost 51 straight games and went 1-59 in the second and third years of the program on the Division I level. Engles took over in 2008-09, when the team went 1-30, and has turned the program around to the following records over the past four years: 10-21, 15-15, 15-17, and 16-13. Clearly on court performance is not holding NJIT back.
The most logical home for the Highlanders has to be the NEC, who just lost Monmouth and Quinnipiac to the MAAC. Sure the NEC is at a round number with ten members, but wouldn't NJIT be a great fit for the NEC? Especially given the uncertainty of college realignment at this time.
What about the America East? The conference lost Boston University officially on Monday and decided to replace the Terriers with UMass-Lowell rather than NJIT. Furthermore, the conference sits at nine members, so why not round it out with the Highlanders?
I recognize these conference decisions aren't just made based on basketball performance, but for the most part these are basketball conferences. I also recognize that the Newark based school doesn't have the best facilities in the world. But this is a program the Highlander fans should be proud of and on the academic side NJIT was just named one of the nation's Top 25 Most Underrated Colleges last week by Business Insider.
NJIT is going to hit their breaking point. They'll either find the home they deserve or be sent packing back to a lower level of the NCAA. For now Jim Engles squad will keep plugging away, this season as an Independent, and you'll continue to see NJIT on some "big time" schedule and this year the Highlanders will even host an A10 home game against Duquesne.