March Madness 2023: Fairleigh Dickinson becomes 1st team to punch ticket, by default

COLLEGE PARK, MD - DECEMBER 21:  The Fairleigh Dickinson Knights logo on a pair of shorts during a college basketball game against the Maryland Terrapins at the Xfinity Center on December 21, 2017 in College Park, Maryland.  The Terrapins won 75-50.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Fairleigh Dickinson is going dancing, but they still have a conference to win. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

The first team to automatically qualify for the 2023 NCAA men's basketball tournament didn't even need to win its conference.

Fairleigh Dickinson punched its ticket on Saturday simply by reaching the finals of the Northeast Conference Tournament, where it will face top-seeded Merrimack. Because Merrimack is in its fourth season in Division I, it is ineligible for the NCAA tournament.

NCAA rules forbid teams from playing in the tournament in their first four years in Division I.

Conference champion or not, FDU happily took the win.

FDU defeated Saint Francis 70-50 to improve its record to 19-14. The Knights are ranked 318th in the KenPom and 303rd in the NET rankings as of Saturday, so there's a good chance they'll be walking into a No. 16 seed.

It will be FDU's seventh appearance in March Madness and first since the 2018-19 season. The program is still looking for its first win in the event, having been a 16 seed all but one time.

The qualification came less than an hour before what was supposed to be the first ticket-punching of the season, the Ohio Valley Conference final between Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee Tech.

That game turned out to be a lot more dramatic than the Northeast tournament, as the two teams reached overtime through a wild sequence of events at the end of regulation, finishing things off with a Tennessee Tech buzzer-beater that would have been a game-winner had it not been for a foot on the line:

There were tears visible on the Southeast Missouri sideline, thinking their season was over, but they were smiling a few minutes later. The Redhawks pulled out an 89-82 win in overtime to receive the second auto-bid of the season.

Why does the NCAA make teams wait for March Madness after joining Division I?

Fairleigh Dickinson isn't the first program to benefit from the odd quirk of NCAA rules, but there is an actual reason for why the organization operates like this.

Simply put, the NCAA forbids teams from entering its national tournaments right after joining Division I because it wants to discourage teams from moving to Division I. There are currently 363 teams in the division, and that number has grown steadily for ages.

Joining Division I is already an expensive prospect for programs, but it clearly hasn't stopped the influx, as schools often desire the marketing boost and potential financial reward that could eventually come by being a DI program.