Will Mercyhurst Get A Weeknight #NECatNite Game?

Mercyhurst has a full schedule in its first year of Northeast Conference play, but will any games catch the NEC or CBS Sports Network's attention?

Mercyhurst will begin NEC play next season.
Source: Mercyhurst Athletics

Mercyhurst completed one of the most impressive scheduling jobs of the season this week when they finalized their first schedule as a member of the FCS. The Lakers found a way to schedule 11 games for the 2024 season in under three months after joining the Northeast Conference (NEC) in April.

As with most of the NEC, the most prescient question remains whether or not the Lakers receive a weeknight game on CBS Sports Network, a.k.a. a "#NECatNite" game. I predicted the 2024 #NECatNite selections earlier this year. However, this was before Mercyhurst joined the league.

Last year's #NECatNite games occurred in October, with St. Francis hosting Wagner on October 12th and Long Island visiting Central Connecticut State two weeks later on October 26th. Mercyhurst's October slate looks like this:

  • October 5th: Buffalo State at home
  • October 12th: @ Central Connecticut State
  • October 26th: @ Sacred Heart

The NEC will not move a game against a Division II game to national TV, eliminating Mercyhurst-Buffalo State. The Lakers' road game against Sacred Heart is outside the NEC's media contract since Sacred Heart is a football independent.

These circumstances leave Central Connecticut State as the only realistic option for October. However, Central Connecticut State appeared in a #NECatNite game last season. Putting the same team on national TV two years in a row while schools such as Stonehill and Duquesne did not appear in 2023 would lead to unhappy members.

Furthermore, Central Connecticut State and Mercyhurst are in the conference's two smallest markets. Hartford (Central Connecticut State) and Erie (Mercyhurst) are the 34th and 150th-ranked TV markets, respectively. Their size pales compared to the New York City, Boston, and even Pittsburgh markets in which other NEC schools are. The league wants to focus on the New York City market, especially since Wagner and Long Island appeared in last year's #NECatNite games.

Should the CBS Sports Network air November weeknight games, which they did not do last year, the Lakers' only options are games against Duquesne the week of November 2nd, and St. Francis the week of November 23rd. Should the league do November weeknight games, the Duquesne game is a realistic option. The Dukes did not appear on #NECatNite last season and have the richest football tradition in the league.

Still, if Mercyhurst were to appear in a #NECatNite game, it would likely be against a New York City or Boston-area team, allowing the league to cater to one prominent market. St. Francis appeared in a #NECatNite game last year. Consequently, Mercyhurst's game with the Red Flash seems as unlikely as Central Connecticut State to receive a #NECatNite spot.

Due to the structure of their schedule and Erie, PA's small media market, Mercyhurst likely needs to wait for a game against Wagner, LIU, or Stonehill to receive some weeknight national TV exposure. By next year, all seven pre-2023 NEC members should have appeared on #NECatNite once, paving the way for a Lakers appearance. All signs indicate that the Lakers may have to wait a year to make a splash on the national stage.