(Photo Courtesy of NJIT Athletics)
NJIT officially announced its move from the Atlantic Sun to the America East on Monday morning. The move will help elevate the Highlanders’ athletic profile as a whole, and lacrosse is no exception to that.
The Highlanders’ inaugural season was in 2015, and they competed as an independent up until 2020 when they joined the NEC as an affiliate for men’s lacrosse, but never even got to play a conference game due to the Coronavirus Outbreak shutting down the 2020 season in mid-March.
Through their first six seasons, the Highlanders have not been very competitive on the lacrosse field, only winning more than one game once in those six seasons (2019). But despite the low win totals, they have shown progress by giving some of their more quality opponents a run for their money over the past few seasons. The program has also seen some off the field momentum with the opening of Lubetkin Field and Mal Simon Stadium last fall, which is the new home of men’s lacrosse and men’s and women’s soccer.
But even with the little progress, competitively speaking, that the Highlanders have shown, many still question how good this move to the America East, which has sent teams to the NCAA Quarterfinals and Final Four in recent history, is for the program. Can they compete? How soon will they be able to compete? Can they recruit well against their opponents?
Well, the truth is that will likely take time to see just how beneficial or detrimental this move to the American East will be for NJIT lacrosse. But they can certainly make some strides as a program early on in this new America East era of NJIT athletics.
As previously mentioned, the move to the America East elevates the profile of NJIT’s athletic profile. And that is true across the board. Whether it is Men’s basketball or Men’s lacrosse, the America East elevates the profile of and further legitimizes the program. And this is the biggest win that NJIT will be getting out of their move to the America East.
In elevating the profile of the program they will be more visible in the broader college lacrosse landscape. Through their first six seasons, they have been a mere afterthought to many. And while that fact may remain true in some regard, they will be much more visible than ever before. Lacrosse fans tune in to Albany games, Stony Brook games. They have been some of the flagship programs of the conference for almost a decade, thus peaking fans’ interest no matter who they are playing against. Playing teams of that caliber and notoriety will get more eyes on NJIT lacrosse.
And while NJIT will start as a bottom feeder in the America East, this step-up will increase their competitiveness, eventually. When you are facing perennial top-20 contenders of fringe top-20 teams on almost a weekly basis, your level of play will go up because it has to in order to survive.
NJIT should also benefit in the recruiting due to this move. Having more visibility and playing high-caliber teams will only attract high-caliber talent. And theoretically, their level of play should go up as the caliber of their recruiting classes from top to bottom go up. However, those benefits will likely take more time than some of the other benefits of this move to fully be seen.
Additionally, the move can increase the athletic department’s financial situation, which has been reported to not be particularly healthy for a few years now, as a whole, which would also benefit lacrosse to some extent.
These strides that NJIT can potentially make over the next few years may not be as apparent at first and may take some time to fully transfer over into the win column, but they will make NJIT lacrosse better and will be byproducts of the Highlanders’ move to the America East.