Independent now, but riding high on last year’s successes
Though NJIT is an NCAA Division I school, it has now been left without a conference – but not
from foul play or dismissal.
“The reason we are leaving is because everyone else left. There is no conference,” says Lenny
Kaplan, NJIT Director of Athletics. NJIT was one of nine founding members of the Great West Conference
(GWC). Over the years, the GWC has contained fifteen to twenty schools which have since branched out
to join other conferences.
Some of NJIT’s sports teams have now been set adrift without an organization to call their own.
Conference opponents made up 80%-90% of GWC team scheduling, and conference participation
provided a measure of success and championship access for student athletes.
At present, NJIT plans to remain independent while identifying an appropriate conference to
join. “The problem is that we haven’t found a conference that’s looking to expand. We’re looking for a
north-east based regional conference. As a state sponsored research institution, we’d like to schedule as
many competitions as possible against schools like us.” Unfortunately, the north-east conferences
looking for new members recently have only been inducting private institutions.
As only a partially recognized NCAA conference, the GWC did not provide funding, so NJIT does
not lose out in that respect. In fact, “we might have saved some money from long distance trips.” The
conferences in NJIT’s sights do not receive the significant funding opportunities that come from large
television contracts and other deals.
Without a conference, “it’s tougher to schedule and you don’t get a chance to create any
rivalries.” There is also no championship at the end of each season to represent a culmination of a
season’s hard work. “It’s about giving athletes something to work for… last year, basketball was the GWC
champion. A year ago, NJIT was the GWC tennis champion. Well, we don’t have chance to do that
anymore. Now… the season ends and we go home. That’s the biggest problem.”
“Our teams will play this year, [against] good teams… we’ll go at them, try to win and represent
NJIT proudly, but in many cases, especially for team sports, there’s nothing at the end of the year to
represent that you are champions. We could go 23-2 and have a great season, and that’s all we have, 23-
2 and a great season. Certainly we’ll have a great season, but we won’t get to show our pride a little and
say, hey, we beat all these [teams] in the conference.”
Though being independent is not ideal, NJIT is riding on the highs of “what was arguably our
most successful year ever.” Aside from championship wins, one NJIT student athlete was drafted by a
Major League Baseball team, with two currently playing in Minor League teams, one tried out for the Brooklyn Nets, and one was approached by a German basketball team. “We’ve hit this little blip without
a conference, but we’re working on it.”