First Team To Clinch NCAA Tournament Bid Didn’t Even Win Its Conference Tournament Yet

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When the 2023 NCAA Tournament begins in less than two weeks, Fairleigh Dickinson will be in the field.

The Knights punched their ticket to the Dance on Saturday by beating St. Francis in the NEC Tournament. But, they did not beat the Red Flash in the championship game. Rather, they won in the semifinals to reach the title game.

Fairleigh Dickinson will face Merrimack in the NEC Championship on Tuesday night. Merrimack won the NEC regular season title and is favored to win the conference tournament championship.

Thanks to transition rules, Fairleigh Dickinson advances to the NCAA Tournament regardless of NEC Championship game result

Merrimack is not eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Why? Because prior to the 2019-2020 seasons, the Warriors transitioned from Division II to Division I. According to NCAA rules, programs must wait four seasons before they are eligible for postseason play.

This is Merrimack’s final season ineligible for the tournament. The NCAA handles this situation by awarding the conference’s NCAA Tournament bid to the regular season champion, should the ineligible team win the conference tournament.

However, Merrimack went 12-4 in conference play and won the NEC regular season title. Then, they beat LIU and Sacred Heart to reach the NEC Tournament Championship game.

Because Merrimack won the regular season title, should they win on Tuesday then the conference’s automatic bid goes to the tournament runner-up.

Merrimack and Fairleigh Dickinson will play in the NEC Tournament Championship so Fairleigh Dickinson advances to the NCAA Tournament by default — regardless of what happens Tuesday night.

Fairleigh Dickinson students storm the court after beating St. Francis on Saturday.
Fairleigh Dickinson students storm the court after beating St. Francis on Saturday (Photo: Jerry Carino, Asbury Park Press)

Winning the NEC Tournament is an important goal for both teams, so each program is going to want to win the game. It’s not meaningless, per se.

But at least as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, the game is meaningless.

Congratulations, Fairleigh Dickinson!

You’re the first school to reach the 2023 NCAA Tournament.

By default.

Congrats, again.

Follow Dan Zaksheske on Twitter: @OutkickDanZ

Written by Dan Zaksheske

Dan began his sports media career at ESPN, where he survived for nearly a decade. Once the Stockholm Syndrome cleared, he made his way to Outkick. He is secure enough in his masculinity to admit he is a cat-enthusiast with three cats, one of which is named “Brady” because his wife wishes she were married to Tom instead of him.

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