Merrimack College will transition to Division I and join the Northeast Conference, the school announced on Monday.
Merrimack will being its transition during the 2019-20 academic year, becoming a full member in 2023-24 (so that would be the first time the Warriors are eligible for the NCAA Tournament).
NEC commissioner Noreen Morris said on Monday in a press release:
“We are thrilled to welcome Merrimack College to the Northeast Conference family! From the outset it was extremely evident that President [Christopher] Hopey and the entire campus community had a clear vision to elevate the academic and athletic profile of Merrimack College. With increased investment in resources, capital improvements and personnel, that vision has become a reality with Merrimack’s most successful competitive season in 2017-18 and the college’s largest incoming freshman class ever entering in the fall 2018. We are very excited that the NEC will be the future home of the Warriors!”
The move will bring NEC membership to 11, and for men’s basketball, that means the league schedule will need to be tweaked. The NEC could keep its double-round-robin format by moving to a 20-game schedule, but this would likely upset a few schools because it would mean two fewer opportunities to schedule guarantee games — a practice many small schools rely on to fund their athletic departments. The other option would be to drop that format and simply have each school face eight teams twice, one team at home only, and one on the road only.
In terms of the postseason, only eight out of the 10 NEC members currently qualify for the conference tournament. Adding an 11th team would probably just mean one more team is left on the outside looking in unless the conference wants to start messing with first-round byes and dragging its tournament out a little longer.
Merrimack President Christopher Hopey said the following in the school’s press release:
“The College’s 2011 strategic plan, the Agenda for Distinction, called for Merrimack College to become a Division I institution to compete and excel at the highest level. We are pleased that our record of achievement and growth has resulted in this invitation to compete in the NEC and partner with its outstanding member institutions.”
The Warriors will, in effect, replace Savannah State as the 353rd member of Division I for basketball. They currently compete in Division II’s Northeast-10 Conference, though its hockey programs are members of Division I in the prestigious Hockey East.
Merrimack will host a formal media availability on Thursday to discuss the transition.