Merrimack Snubbed of CBS Sports Network Appearance

#NECatNite makes its debut this season CBS Sports Network, but one of the league's frontrunners will not participate. What's the big idea?

Merrimack went 8-3 last year
Source: Merrimack College

It was one small step for the Northeast Conference, one giant step for college football as CBS Sports Network granted the NEC its first-ever contract with a linear TV broadcaster (which I predicted back in March). Amidst the prevailing headlines of greedy conferences and TV networks, it is a refreshing sight to witness an underdog conference and secure much-needed exposure against all odds.

On October 12th and October 26th, the Northeast Conference will host one Thursday night game each. The first game will see Wagner visiting defending conference champion Saint Francis (PA), while two weeks later, Long Island will travel to Central Connecticut State for its CBSSN closeup.

Notably absent from both games are the up-and-coming Merrimack Warriors, undoubtedly the second-best team in the league. The Warriors of Andover enjoyed a stellar year under the radar in their third FCS season, posting an 8-3 overall record and a 6-1 performance in conference play.

Merrimack took 6-4 Harvard to overtime and trailed the mighty Holy Cross team, which ended the season 12-1 and claimed the #8 seed in the playoffs, by just nine points at halftime in a 31-17 loss. While the Warriors suffered a defeat against the eventual league champion, Saint Francis (PA), with a score of 52-23, their October 28th rubber match emerged as the undisputed game of the year.

Four players who recorded at least six TFLs in 2022, return to a solid Warriors' defense, which allowed a respectable average of 23 points allowed per game. Merrimack proudly boasts four preseason All-NEC selections, including Garry Rosemond Jr., who intercepted four passes in the previous season. Despite these accomplishments, Merrimack's exposure is limited to an appearance on ESPN+ on October 7th when they face their Bay State rival, Stonehill. To seize this opportunity, the NEC must spotlight not only their top teams but also their most compelling matchups.

The prospect of the NEC showcasing the Bay State rivalry between Merrimack and Stonehill is exhilarating. This rivalry traces back to 1996 when both schools were part of the Northeast-10. With over 25 meetings between them and a distance of just over 50 miles, the rivalry carries some intrigue. Sadly, the CBS Sports Network's preference for markets over a game with playoff implications is disheartening. Merely granting Merrimack an ESPN+ slot on a crowded Saturday does injustice to one of the league's emerging programs.

While the NEC rightly chose to feature its defending league champion, Saint Francis, with one of the CBS Sports Network slots, the execution falls short. Wagner's 1-10 performance last year, coupled with their scoring less than 10 points in seven games, contrasts sharply with Saint Francis' dominance—a 9-3 record and all but one conference win coming by 20 points or more last year. The Red Flash easily disposed of Wagner in their last encounter, a 27-7 game that was essentially over by the early fourth quarter.

The inaugural NEC game on CBS Sports Network may well be a lopsided contest that viewers divert their attention from, rather than a captivating back-and-forth battle that boldly introduces the league to a national audience. This dynamic might discourage some fans from giving the subsequent broadcast involving Central Connecticut State and Long Island a chance, despite the latter game promising a more competitive outlook.

Enthusiasts of college football have reason to celebrate as the NEC finally secures long-awaited exposure in the limelight. Nevertheless, the decision not to feature one of the league's premier teams in a prime weeknight game raises questions. The NEC can only hope that their choice to prioritize markets over contenders yields positive results in the long run.