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Why Merrimack isn’t able to play in NCAA Tournament or NIT despite winning Northeast Conference

This is a very stupid rule, but it’s still a rule.

Merrimack Warriors Jordan McKoy guard takes a three point shot in the first half against the St. John’s Red Storm at Carnesecca Arena. Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Merrimack Warriors won the Northeast Conference regular season championship this year and has the chance to be a double champion when hosting the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights in the NEC Tournament title game on Tuesday. That would be a remarkable achievement for a program still new to Division I, but unfortunately for them, no further postseason accolades can be achieved.

Merrimack is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to NCAA rules regarding teams transitioning up to Division I. The rules specify that a D1 newcomer is ineligible for the postseason in its first four seasons at the level, serving as a required ramp-up period for these programs as they get acclimated.

Merrimack is currently in its fourth season since making the jump, meaning that it will be officially eligible for the big dance next year. As a result of this, Fairleigh Dickinson will receive the NEC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament no matter what happens on Tuesday. The rule also prevents the Warriors from receiving a bid to the NIT, a spot that would’ve been reserved for them had they lost on Tuesday.

You may remember Bellarmine being in this same exact spot last season, winning the Atlantic Sun tourney but not being eligible for The Big Dance. As more teams transition up to DI, this is something the NCAA rules committee may need to reconsider. The kids earned it on the court and should be allowed to represent on the sport’s biggest stage.