“That’s the goal, to win a championship again and go to March,” Minor, a 6-foot-8 forward, said after posting 19 points and 7 rebounds in the win. “I’m just thankful. We can’t control whether or not we go this year, but next year we’ll be able to be eligible. So I’m just blessed.”
Eleven schools, including Merrimack, are currently in some phase of moving to Division I and subject to the decades-old transition rule. But why isn’t a team good enough to win its conference tournament allowed to compete in the sport’s biggest event? The rationale for the rule, an N.C.A.A. spokeswoman said in an email, is to allow those schools to get to Division I standards for facilities, scholarship requirements and other aspects of their athletic programs.
“Originally, N.C.A.A. members in Division I instituted a two-year process for reclassification, but that was doubled when teams began to make the jump and were unable to sustain Division I membership because they made the move too soon and could not keep up financially,” the spokeswoman, Meghan Durham, said. “It’s meant to protect universities from taking on more expense than they can handle.”
Merrimack Coach Joe Gallo led the Warriors to an NEC regular-season championship in 2019-20, when they became the first team to win a conference title in the first season of transitioning to Division I. Since joining the NEC, the Warriors have won a league-best 64 percent of their regular-season conference games. Their win over Fairleigh Dickinson was their 11th in a row, and they could add to that total if they chose to play in the College Basketball Invitational, which is not run by the N.C.A.A., but Gallo said, “I think we are done.”
Needless to say, Gallo isn’t a huge fan of the N.C.A.A. transition rule.
“I hope moving forward for the kids’ sake, something is done about it, because for four years what you’re doing is, you’re taking a kid’s whole career out of the equation,” Gallo said in the lead-up to the conference title game. “You’re basically telling a kid, ‘You can’t compete in the postseason for your whole career.’”