Thank the Michigan Wolverines in part, but thank an administration that did what it needed to do to upgrade a program and show value without giving up. On Friday the last Division I independent school, New Jersey Institute of Technology, will announce that is has found a conference home, replacing the University of Northern Kentucky in the Atlantic Sun Conference for the 2015-16 school year.
The eight-team Atlantic Sun consists of Florida Gulf Coast, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Lipscomb, North Florida, Stetson and South Carolina-Upstate. Not exactly household names in Brick City, but it is a credit to AD Lenny Kaplan and his staff to get this done and find a school, not just in men’s basketball, that needs and deserves a home.
Is it a good fit? Not great at a first look but it is a home. NJIT with its strong academics and improving athletics could probably boost the MAAC or the America East or the Northeast Conference, but because of those two factors, the chance of losing to NJIT especially with no real upside, there is little to no incentive for a local league to add NJIT. Maybe, maybe, when a new facility is built and some additional student support in the thousands comes in there might be a rethink, but for now, if you are St. Peter’s or Iona or FDU, why add a school with risk and academics that creates more issues than positives. The Prudential Center as a lure for big time games is nice, but right now it’s more mirage than reality. maybe creative marketing that combines a concert with Highlanders hoops once a year draws 10k, but other than that it’s a tough tough sell.
For the school what does conference affiliation mean? Consistency, economies of scale on travel, some identity for the programs, and most importantly a bid for hoops recruits, along with a share of an NCAA pie that got bigger over the years with Bracket Busters like FGCU making their deep tournament run. As an independent school, postseason at its best meant one of the two pay for play tournaments, and while last year’s run for Jim Engles squad was nice, it meant spending more to get less for the short term. In this case that send, plus the facility upgrades and the ability for these southern schools to now consistently have a presence in the New York area for recruiting in every sport, makes for an interesting fit.
Now last year winning helped NJIT get recognition in a tough media market. Going forward winning in conference any be a transition, but being able to dance with the brightest of lights helps with donations, student morale and recruitment, and maybe even with things like sponsorship and media coverage. Some may snicker and say may say this is only slightly better than nothing, but in reality does West Virginia in the Big 12 make sense, or for that matter a school like Fordham playing VCU in the Atlantic 10 make for a perfect marriage? No, but we are in an era of revenue vs. tradition, and revenue via a league is an upgrade from nomads with no future.
So bravo NJIT and staff, Friday is a day a long time in coming and well deserved. It is what you make of it as a business going forward.