Merrimack and Sacred Heart Leaving NEC as Full Members; Future Football Conference TBD

Editor’s Note: On Thursday, January 25, 2024, it was reported that Sacred Heart would play the 2024 FCS season as an independent. On Tuesday, January 30, 2024, the Northeast Conference released its 2024 conference schedule, which confirmed that Sacred Heart and Merrimack will not be football-playing members in 2024. On March 7, 2024, it was confirmed that Merrimack will also play as an FCS independent for the 2024 season.

Merrimack University and Sacred Heart are leaving the Northeast Conference as full members to join the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) beginning with the 2024-25 academic year. It is not clear which conference Merrimack and Sacred Heart will join for football as the MAAC doesn’t sponsor football. According to Sacred Heart president John Petillo, remaining in the NEC as an affiliate member in football is an option.

Merrimack is a recent newcomer to the FCS level having joined the NEC in 2019 and completed their four-year transition to Division 1 following the 2022-23 academic year. The Warriors have been a decent program going 6-5 in 2019, 0-3 in 2020, 5-6 in 2021, and 8-3 in 2022 with a 2nd place finish in the NEC. As of this posting, they are 4-3 overall (3-1 in the NEC) in 2023 and sit in 2nd place.

Sacred Heart has been in the NEC since 1999 and has been one of the best teams in the conference for the last decade with five conference championships since 2013. They’ve made 4 FCS Playoff appearances since 2013 although they have yet to make it beyond the first round. The Pioneers currently sit in last place with a 1-7 overall record and are 1-4 in the NEC.

The NEC could be down to 6 teams starting in 2024 if Merrimack and Sacred Heart depart with Central Connecticut State, Duquesne, Long Island, Saint Francis (PA), Stonehill, and Wagner remaining. Stonehill is still in the transition period to Division 1 and won’t be a full member until the 2026 season leaving the NEC with only 5 eligible members for automatic qualifying bid purposes. The NCAA does have a 2-year grace period for conferences to get back up to 6 eligible members.

There are several conference options for both programs. Both programs could remain in the NEC as football-only members as is currently the case with Duquesne. They could join the Big South-OVC Football Association as a football-only member similar to former NEC member Robert Morris. Then there’s the possibility of going to the Patriot League or pursuing non-scholarship football in the Pioneer Football League although there’s nothing to suggest the latter scenario is a serious consideration at this time.

Photo credit to Sacred Heart University Athletics

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.