In the ever-changing world of college athletics, one thing is for sure. Nothing is forever. On Monday, that point was made again as two members of the Northeast Conference, The Merrimack College Warriors and the Sacred Heart Pioneers decided to leave the league and move on to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. The move will allow both schools to begin play in their new league for the 2024-25 season. The two additions will bring the number of league members to 13 in the MAAC which is an all-time high number for the conference. It will leave the Northeast Conference with seven members to start in 2024. The move will become official on July 1, 2024.
In a statement, MAAC Commissioner Travis Tellitocci said “This is a significant and exciting day for the MAAC.” The hope here is that adding both schools will extend the league’s presence in major metropolitan areas. Sacred Heart is located in Connecticut and Merrimack is in Massachusetts. The Merrimack Warriors sponsored 28 teams, 16 for the women, and 12 for the men. This will be their first full year of division one eligibility as their reclassification process ended last year. During the transaction, the men’s basketball program won two regular season championships and a conference tournament title last March. This year, the team was picked to finish fourth in their preseason poll.
Sacred Heart has 33 varsity sports and over 1,000 student-athletes on campus. Over the years, the Pioneers have won 73 Northeast Conference titles. They have also won a league-best nine Commissioner Cups for overall league excellence. They are more than just sports since joining the league in 1999. Sacred Heart has won four NEC institutional Academic Awards. SHU has made four appearances in NCAA tournament play with the women’s basketball team winning a game in the tournament in 2023. With the addition of Sacred Heart, the MAAC will now have three schools located in Connecticut. The other two are Fairfield and Quinnipiac. Overall, the league spans five states. With Maryland, New York, and New Jersey being the others.
The conference sponsors 23 NCAA Division I sports. Fifteen of them earned automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. Sacred Heart and Merrimack have hockey programs that this move will not affect. Merrimack men’s ice hockey team will remain in Hockey East as will their women’s program. Sacred Heart will continue to play in the Atlantic League. However, the move is a little more complicated for the Pioneers. That’s because there are four sports that the MAAC does not sponsor: Football, men’s volleyball, field hockey, and bowling. These sports could either stay in the NEC or find a new home. Merrimack also has a football and women’s bowling team. They may either find a new home or stay where they are.
It does appear that more exposure to both schools’ basketball programs may have been a driving force behind this decision. Time will tell if the right move was made.
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