Bryant accepts invite to join the America East
Some notable realignment news, and it involves a prominent lacrosse school.
The Bryant Bulldogs announced Tuesday they accepted an invitation to join the America East Conference effective July 1 of this year. The Bulldogs will also be an associate member of the Big South Conference for football. A formal press conference is schedule for Thursday, April 7.
"We are thrilled that Bryant University will join America East as a full member institution starting next academic year," said America East Commissioner Brad Walker in Bryant's press release. "Bryant's reputation as an academic institution combined with its athletics success will help strengthen our conference in all facets."
"I want to thank Commissioner Walker and the Board of Directors in the America East for giving this incredible opportunity to the student-athletes, coaches and staff at Bryant University," Director of Athletics Bill Smith said. "The America East consists of Universities and programs that excel nationally on both the field of play and in the classroom. We are honored to become a member of this outstanding conference and will work diligently to make them proud."
The Bulldogs have competed in the NEC since they jumped from Division I in the 2008-09 academic year. Bryant recently won the NEC regular season and NEC Tournament in men's basketball for the first time in program history, reaching the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their DI history.
In terms of lacrosse, Bryant's men's program has won six NEC Championship and have been arguably the best team in the conference over the past decade. Bryant's women's lacrosse program has won three NEC titles. The Bulldogs should be contenders to win the America East in men's lacrosse immediately.
With Hartford (reclassifying to Division III) and Stony Brook (moving to the CAA) leaving the conference, the America East will still have seven men's and women's lacrosse programs in the conference. NJIT only has men's lacrosse while New Hampshire only has women's lacrosse. Bryant will also be the America East's lone private school member (Hartford also was a private school before departing).
Hartford will remain at the DI level for next year as an independent.
The move will have ramifications for the NEC in men's lacrosse. With Hobart and Saint Joseph's leaving for the long-rumored Atlantic 10 lacrosse conference next season, that will put the NEC at five members. Prior to the shutdown of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conference had 10 members. That summer, NJIT moved to the America East, while Robert Morris left for the Horizon League (which doesn't sponsor lacrosse) and was booted from the NEC.
Women's lacrosse will have eight members and will not have their automatic qualifier status affected.
Similar to the ACC, the NEC will have a two-year grace period to keep their AQ status in men's lacrosse while they find a sixth member. In a statement, NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris notes that the NEC Presidents "have been actively involved in membership expansion planning" and will rolling out that plan in "the near future."
Here's how things currently sit for men's lacrosse for next year based on everything I have heard. Conference not meeting the thick black line currently do not have the minimum of six schools to gain an automatic qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
It would not be surprise that the NEC targets Division II schools from the Northeast-10 conference. Bryant, LIU, Merrimack, and Quinnipiac all came from the NE-10. New Haven and Stonehill have reportedly been linked to be seeking invites from the NEC. Both currently sponsor women's lacrosse, but not men's lacrosse.
Central Connecticut, Fairleigh Dickinson, St. Francis (Brooklyn), and Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) also do not currently sponsor men's lacrosse.
The America East might not be done adding new members, with Quinnipiac being linked to the conference. Currently, the MAAC will be getting VMI as an associate member for men's lacrosse next year which will keep the conference at six and retaining their AQ status. Losing Quinnipiac would dip the MAAC down to five members.
With associate member Hampton heading to the CAA, the SoCon would have Jacksonville and Mercer left over. Jacksonville is a primary member of the ASUN and it's expected they'd move to their primary conference. The feeling is Mercer would also join the ASUN. Lindenwood is moving up from Division II to Division I and also feels like a fit to join the ASUN.
Things feel like they will change within the coming weeks and months. More moves are going to come.