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Mercyhurst University will step up to Division I and join the Northeast Conference for sports competition

Mercyhurst University is upgrading its sports program.

Mercyhurst University is bumping up its athletics program.

The Erie-based private Catholic-affiliated school accepted an invitation to join the Division I Northeast Conference, effective this fall. Except for the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, Lakers athletics currently competes at the Division II level in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.

Mercyhurst president Kathleen Getz said Thursday that the university's acceptance into the Northeast Conference marks a significant moment, emphasizing their commitment to excellence. Getz believes the move will benefit the Mercyhurst community, alumni, and fans by creating a new era of spirited competition and connectedness.

Getz compared Thursday’s announcement to pivotal decisions in the school's history, such as becoming co-ed in 1969 and gaining university status in 2012.

Getz mentioned that transitioning to Division I and the NEC will raise the standards for student-athletes and enhance the profile and prestige of Mercyhurst University nationally. The move will open up opportunities for recruitment, competition, and collaboration with universities and athletic programs in new and larger markets, including New York, Chicago, and Boston.

Mercyhurst now has an in-state rival in Loretto-based St. Francis (Pa.). The NEC’s other full members include Central Connecticut State, Chicago State, Fairleigh Dickinson, Le Moyne, Long Island, Stonehill, and Wagner.

The NEC’s football conference includes Duquesne and Robert Morris.

Apart from the ice hockey teams and football, Mercyhurst also sponsors other sports like baseball, basketball, cross country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, stunt, tennis, volleyball, water polo, and wrestling.

The Lakers will take part in 18 out of the 25 sports offered by the NEC.

According to Mercyhurst athletic director Joe Spano, the university's athletic programs have demonstrated talent and dedication at the NCAA Division II level. The move to Division I is seen as an opportunity for growth and achievement for the student-athletes and the university.

With an undergraduate enrollment of 2,125 and 360 graduate students, Mercyhurst teams have achieved 26 conference championships and made 72 appearances in the NCAA Tournament since 2000. The men’s lacrosse team clinched the Division II national championship in 2011.

The commissioner of the NEC, Noreen Morris, said in a statement that they are very happy to welcome Mercyhurst University as the newest member of the conference. She mentioned that Mercyhurst's dedication to developing their student-athletes, both on the field and in the classroom, as well as their focus on community involvement, really connected with the mission and values of the NEC.

Mercyhurst is now the fifth Division I basketball program in Pennsylvania west of Penn State, joining Pitt, Duquesne, Robert Morris, and St. Francis. It is the first new Division I school in western Pennsylvania since Robert Morris moved up almost fifty years ago.

Mercyhurst will not be able to participate in “March Madness” (or any other NCAA team national championship) until the 2028-29 season as it transitions to Division I. Except for NCAA non-automatic qualifier sports (cross country, swimming and diving, and indoor and outdoor track and field), the Lakers will not be eligible to compete in NEC championships until the 2026-27 season.

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