Bryant University, a member of the NEC from 2009-2021, is joining the Big South Conference as an associate football member effective with the 2022 season. The Bulldogs are joining the America East Conference for its other sports.
The NEC has a 45-scholarship limit, below the FCS maximum of 63. Bryant is expected to be a full-scholarship FCS program for the 2022 season.
“Bryant University’s commitment to success in FCS football is real,” said Big South Commissioner Kyle Kallander. “From program growth, to personnel, to planned facility improvements, the Bulldogs are impressive in their approach to striving for, and achieving, excellence. Bryant will be an outstanding member of Big South Conference football, and we look forward to welcoming them for the 2022 season.”
It’s a much-needed addition for the Big South after losing members Hampton and Monmouth to the CAA in late January, and then North Carolina A&T to the CAA a month later. Kennesaw State and North Alabama are also on their way out to the ASUN Conference.
NC A&T will play in the Big South for football in 2022 before joining the CAA in 2023.
With the addition of Bryant (Smithfield, Rhode Island), the Big South will have six teams for the 2022 season, and then five teams in 2023 when NC A&T leaves — Bryant, Robert Morris, Charleston Southern, Campbell, and Gardner-Webb.
Six teams are needed for a conference to have an auto-bid into the FCS playoffs. The NCAA grants a 2-year grace period for conferences to get membership numbers back up to minimum AQ requirements. However, in late February, the Big South and OVC announced an FCS football association beginning in 2023.
“This is a great day for our department and for our football program,” Bryant University Director of Athletics Bill Smith said. “I am incredibly grateful to Commissioner Kallander for giving us the opportunity to join a conference with a rich history of competitive success that has produced some of the nation’s top teams over the last several years. This is a great opportunity for our football program to take the next step in its evolution and for our school to continue to grow its footprint across the country. We are excited to build new rivalries in the Big South and look forward to competing for championships.”
The NEC announced its 2022 football schedule on March 15, which included Bryant. “We have yet to make any decisions regarding the 2022 football schedule. Stay tuned,” the conference told HERO Sports’ Daniel Steenkamer.
In an earlier press release statement, NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris said, “While we are disappointed by this news, we thank Bryant for its 14-year partnership with the NEC. We wish Bryant’s coaches and student-athletes only the best as they complete their final few months of NEC regular season and championship competition and transition to the America East Conference in 2022-23. The Northeast Conference is excited about its future and the possibilities that lie ahead. Over the past year, the NEC Presidents have been actively involved in membership expansion planning with a focus on attracting institutions that support the NEC’s strategic goals and position the league in terms of strength and stability. We look forward to rolling out that plan in the near future.”