Merrimack Unfairly Denied Inevitable March Madness Shellacking

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A bad NCAA rule kept a Massachusetts college from competing in the Division 1 men’s basketball tournament known as March Madness.

Merrimack College won the Northeast Conference title this year, beating Fairleigh Dickinson 67-66 in the championship game. Under normal circumstances, this would have automatically granted Merrimack a March Madness appearance. Yet, Fairleigh Dickinson got the nod instead.

Fairleigh Dickinson then beat Texas Southern 84-61 on Wednesday in the First Four round of the tournament. Fairleigh Dickinson now has the honor of inevitably getting blown out by top-seeded Purdue on Friday, March 17.

What the NCAA did to Merrimack is wrong. Merrimack deserved the opportunity to play a play-in game and then get blown out by Purdue two days later.

Had Merrimack made the tournament, there would have been a Massachusetts school in March Madness for the first time since 2019; Northeastern University made the tournament that year.

However, Merrimack is a new Division 1 program. It moved up to Division 1 from Division. 2 in the 2018-2019 season. Sadly, the NCAA has a four-year probationary period, preventing new Division 1 programs from postseason play. The rule exists to “ensure it can handle rule changes and subsist at the higher level,” according to The New York Times. The “it” in the sentence refers to teams that move up a division.

So not only was Merrimack ineligible for the March Madness tournament. The team was also ineligible for the 2023 National Invitation Tournament, a best-of-the-rest tournament that invites the 32 teams with the best records that did not make the NCAA tournament. 

Whether or not Merrimack made the tournament would not have affected the outcome. Since Merrimack beat Fairleigh Dickinson, odds are, the team would have beaten Texas Southern. Yet, as a 16-seed, Merrimack would have had no shot against top-seeded Purdue. Merrimack went 12-4 in conference play but 18-16 overall; Merrimack went 6-12 when they were not playing in the conference — and one of those non-conference wins came over the University of New England, a Division 3 school. 

Yet, Merrimack was the best school in the Northeast Conference. It should not matter that they are new to Division 1. The team was good enough to make the tournament. Merrimack would have been one of the worst teams in the tournament. However, it would have been an accomplishment for a new Division 1 program, nonetheless. 

The four-year probationary period is a rule that NCAA president and former Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker should work on changing. Given that Baker has no interest in making any changes to the NCAA’s transgender athlete policy, which allows males to compete against women, he should at least try to fix this problem.

If he does, he has a chance to be a better NCAA president than he was a governor.


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