NJIT Was "The One That Got Away" From the Northeast Conference
NJIT looks to have the last laugh with the Northeast Conference after nearly a decade of being snubbed after St. Francis-Brooklyn’s departure.
The New Jersey Institute of Technology's early Division I years were unstable and quite honestly, random. After making the jump to Division I in 2008, the Highlanders joined the Great West despite being neither Great nor West. The Highlanders' conference mates at that time were Chicago State, Houston Baptist, North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and Utah Valley University.
After realignment dispersed the Great West's members, the Highlanders became independent in 2013, a situation that lasted until 2015 when the Atlantic Sun (ASun) extended the Highlanders a lifeline. The match was one of desperation for both as the ASun had lost East Tennessee State, Mercer, and Northern Kentucky from 2014 to 2015, reducing its membership to seven schools.
NJIT provided some stability for the conference. The arrangement was not ideal with the Highlanders' "closest" conference opponent being USC-Upstate 687 miles away and their furthest being Florida Gulf Coast at 1240 miles away.
This was life for the Highlanders as the ASun added two more Southern schools in Liberty and North Alabama over the years until the America East Conference extended another lifeline in 2020 by adding the Highlanders to the conference and eliminating all trips to Florida and the Deep South.
So, why bring up NJIT now? About a month ago, St. Francis-Brooklyn announced it was ending its athletic program, effective immediately. This sad news puts the Northeast Conference at eight full members, not a position any conference wants to be in during this latest round of conference realignment.
But it never had to be this way, as the NEC had a decade to add NJIT. After the conference lost Monmouth and Quinnipiac to the MAAC after the 2012-2013 academic year, reducing its membership to 10 schools, the conference would not add another school until 2019 when they added Merrimack. This was only in response to losing Robert Morris and seeing the conference membership drop to nine schools.
NJIT was always a solid fit for the NEC due to its geography and position in the New York City market. The Highlanders have also had multiple quality years with three College Insider.com Tournament (CIT) appearances, with two of those runs reaching the semifinals.
To get a school in the New York City market with a solid track record in the postseason that landed them TV appearances on CBS Sports Network in the CIT semifinals would have been a win for the NEC. Instead, its lack of proactivity led to a missed opportunity for the conference.
While I am not saying NJIT would have been the savior of the NEC, they would have brought increased stability and protection in the New York City market, which is crucial considering the conference's partnership with SNY, the TV home of the Mets. Now, with few options available, the NEC may be closer to panic mode and one may think.