The Northeast Conference (NEC) announced its comprehensive slate for 2024 on January 30th. The release featured some surprise last-minute non-conference additions, but the most significant story was the omission of Merrimack and Sacred Heart from the conference after months of speculation. Even after the schedule release another question looms: which games will CBS Sports Network and the conference move to Thursday nights?
Last season, CBS Sports Network and the NEC began their partnership. The cable network aired two NEC games on Thursday nights (#NECatNite games for the hip) for the first nationally televised intraconference games in the league's history. St. Francis hosted Wagner on October 12th for the first Thursday night game, and two Thursdays later, Long Island traveled to Central Connecticut State.
Three NEC teams did not receive CBS Sports Network appearances last season. Additionally, both Thursday night games featured a school from the New York City metro. From these clues, one can infer which two games the network will make Thursday night showcases.
October 17th: Long Island @ Robert Morris
Longtime NEC member Robert Morris rejoins the league after an uneventful but bizarre tenure in the Big South-Ohio Valley Conference alliance. Consequently, the Colonials did not appear in a #NECatNite game last season.
The Robert Morris-LIU matchup fulfills another conference goal by featuring one of the two NEC schools in the New York City metro. While the desire to cater to the New York City market is understandable, the league has a natural New York City bias, with its headquarters located 43 miles from New York City, in Bridgewater, NJ.
Both schools had identical 4-7 seasons last year, making this not a marquee game for the league. However, that does not matter for the league. Before last season, the league and CBS Sports Network selected a matchup between LIU and Central Connecticut State teams that went 4-7 and 2-9 respectively, in 2022. Robert Morris and LIU have just met once before. The Colonials beat LIU 34-17 in 2019 before leaving the league the following season.
October 24th: Duquesne @ Stonehill
Showcasing the league champion is a wise decision for the NEC. Last season, then-defending champion St. Francis (PA) kicked off the Thursday night festivities by hosting Wagner in the first #NECatNite game. This year, the Red Flash's Western Pennsylvania counterpart, Duquesne, is the defending champion. Fortunately, the Dukes did not appear in a #NECatNite game. The league perfectly placed the game on the last weekend of October, before the CBS Sports Network starts airing weeknight MAC games.
The league should complete its two-year cycle of showcasing every school in a #NECatNite game by airing Stonehill-Duquesne. The Skyhawks did not appear in a #NECatNite game either. Along with airing two new teams, this game also caters to the league's other large media market, Boston. The Dukes and Skyhawks played one of the most thrilling games in the Northeast Conference last season. Both teams scored touchdowns in the final three minutes in a 33-28 upset win for Stonehill. The 4-5 Skyhawks played spoiler and forced a winner-take-all game in the season finale for Duquesne with the win.
Last season's #NECatNite games significantly improved the league's reputation and the country's awareness of the league. These two games will do the same for the NEC if the league moves them to Thursday nights. The turbulent league should keep all its members happy by showcasing three new teams in this year's weeknight games.