The NJIT Highlanders have accepted an invitation to join the Northeast Conference as an associate member in men’s lacrosse beginning in 2020 in a joint press release sent by NJIT and the NEC.
The Highlanders are beginning their fifth year as a Division I program and have spent their entire time as an independent. With an interview with NJIT Coaches and College Crosse, one of their big goals was to get the program in a conference and were targeting the NEC. This should help get the program off and rolling after winning three games in four years.
“We are very excited to join the Northeast Conference as an associate member in men’s lacrosse. Since our program’s inception, we have been searching for a competitive league within our geographic region and the NEC is a perfect fit,” said NJIT’s Director of Athletics Lenny Kaplan in the press release. “This partnership is the final piece to help us grow into the competitive program that we envisioned since its launch.”
“Our program couldn’t be more excited to join the NEC,” Johnson stated in the press release. “There are so many great programs, coaches and players right around the corner from us. Our student-athletes can now compete for a conference playoff bid, a conference championship and an NCAA bid. It’s what they’re playing for. These are great times for our program, which is truly thankful for the dedicated efforts of Dr. Joel Bloom and Lenny Kaplan.”
The Highlanders are a full-time member of the Atlantic Sun which includes Jacksonville, an associate member of the Southern Conference for men’s lacrosse.
As for the NEC, it continues to grow in men’s lacrosse. In a span of a little over a month, the conference announced Merrimack and Long Island University as two full-time members joining the conference next year as well as NJIT as an associate member today. Unlike LIU and NJIT, Merrimack will have to wait four years until they are able to compete in postseason competitions as they transition into Division I. The NEC now has 10 men’s lacrosse programs, surpassing the Patriot League’s nine members as the most out of any conference in college lacrosse.
It will be very interesting to see how the NEC addresses the double-digit number of programs for men’s lacrosse. With 17 competitions scheduled throughout the year, each program may have to reserve more than half of them to play every conference opponent. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for non conference regular season play and perhaps spring and fall scrimmages as well. Could the NEC be the first men’s lacrosse conference to introduce divisions, with five teams in each division? Play four opponents in your division and maybe one or two others in the other division and have some more non conference games could be a possibility.
If the divisions thing does happen, here’s two possible ways to do it. The first is an “East” and “West” method.
Mount St. Mary’s
There’s also maybe a possibility to do it “North” and “South.”
Mount St. Mary’s
The conference has two good clusters in the New England area (Bryant, Merrimack, and Sacred Heart) and the NY/NJ area (LIU, NJIT, Wagner). Saint Joseph’s has a good argument to be included in the NY/NJ cluster too given how close campus is to there. But I think if one of those two division models does happen, one of the teams in the NY/NJ cluster is getting separated. But after that, Hobart (Upstate NY), Mount St. Mary’s (Northern Maryland, NW of Baltimore), and Robert Morris (Pittsburgh area) are all spread apart.
Could there also be some sort of more conference realignment coming? Probably not, given the fact that the NEC now has enough full-time members to have an automatic qualifier. But if more schools keep adding lacrosse, maybe affiliate member Saint Joseph’s leaves for perhaps an Atlantic 10 men’s lacrosse conference? Too soon for that.
With NJIT joining the NEC, Cleveland State, Hampton, and Utah are the other Division I institutions that compete as independents.