The Merrimack Warriors have accepted an invitation to join the Northeast Conference in Division I and will become the conference’s 11th member, which was announced earlier today by NEC commissioner Noreen Morris.
Merrimack is currently a member of the Northeast 10 conference in Division II for this upcoming season in all but two sports and will be able to compete for NE10 championships this year. The Warriors men’s and women’s hockey teams are members of Hockey East in Division I and will stay in that conference. The Warriors will start their membership as members of the NEC beginning in the 2019-20 academic year and will be “incorporated as fully as possible into NEC athletic schedules.”
The school will be a full member of the conference prior to the start of the 2023-24 school year. There is a four-year NCAA Division I reclassification period that the school will have to go through and will be able to participate in NEC championships in non-automatic qualifier sports (lacrosse is not one of them).
“We are thrilled to welcome Merrimack College to the Northeast Conference family!” Morris said in the press release. “From the outset it was extremely evident that President [Christopher] Hopey and the entire campus community had a clear vision to elevate the academic and athletic profile of Merrimack College. With increased investment in resources, capital improvements and personnel, that vision has become a reality with Merrimack’s most successful competitive season in 2017-18 and the college’s largest incoming freshman class ever entering in the fall 2018. We are very excited that the NEC will be the future home of the Warriors!”
In terms of men’s lacrosse, the Warriors will become the 74th team in Division I, hopefully starting next season, and the eighth team in the NEC. The last men’s lacrosse team that transitioned from Division II to Division I was the Bryant Bulldogs in 2012, when they transitioned from the NE10 to the NEC. UMass Lowell, another former NE10 team, moved to the America East conference but formed their lacrosse teams a year after their Division I transition.
Merrimack won their first lacrosse national championship in 2018 with a 23-6 win over St. Leo and have been a Division II power for the past few seasons led by head coach Mike Morgan. Last season, they scrimmaged Boston University and eventual Division I national champion Yale. The scrimmage against the Bulldogs was very close for a Division II team, noted Mike McMahon in The Mack Report:
“Yeah I was texting Andy (Shay) last night and I congratulated him,” Morgan said. “He texted back and said take care of business (today). We both kind of knew if we could find a way to win, and all of a sudden Yale finds a way to win, that’s three New England National Championships.
“We talked about it in your article. We played Yale for four quarters with our starters against each other, and you lose 13-8, and this team’s maybe best team in the country in D-1, we kinda of knew then we were something special. Then these guys’ work ethic went through the roof. You combine that with some good talent and good players, and we kind of are where we are today.”
As for the women’s program, Merrimack will become the 118th Division I women’s program hopefully next season, joining the Akron Zips.
A formal media availability and campus celebration will be hosted by Merrimack in their basketball arena Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m. We hope to be there for that announcement.