NJIT will move from the ASUN to the America East, effective on July 1, the America East announced on Friday.
“We are thrilled to welcome NJIT as America East’s tenth member institution,” Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said in a press release. “They will be a great addition to our league and strengthen the academic and athletic profile of our conference.”
Stadium Sports’ Jeff Goodman first reported the move on Thursday, which was then denied, then the ASUN commissioner had a public meltdown, then he got weird, then we confirmed the move, then the league made it official with the announcement Friday afternoon.
While the move makes a ton of sense — NJIT has never been a logical fit in the ASUN and the America East will significantly ease travel costs for the Highlanders — the timing was unexpected. Rarely, if ever, do you see a school announce a conference change that will take effect for the next school year. These things usually have at least a one-year wait.
The current COVID-19 pandemic, however, played a role in this move, according to a statement from NJIT president Dr. Joel Bloom.
“For our student-athletes, they will be playing closer to home, traveling less during this COVID-19 pandemic, and thereby producing cost savings for the university. It is with mixed emotions that we depart the ASUN conference who, like NJIT and the America East, focus on the success of our students academically and athletically.”
In men’s basketball, NJIT brings a young-but-competitive program to a low-major conference that perennially has at least one team in the KenPom top 175. Vermont is the powerhouse and usual favorite to earn the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid, but UMBC, Albany, and Stony Brook have all had recent success. While NJIT won just nine games last season, the Highlanders are a year removed from a 22-win campaign and have won 20-or-more three times in the past six years. They haven’t made the NCAA Tournament yet in their Division I history, but have come a long way from a program that went 1-59 over the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons.