A story that could play out across the landscape of the NCAA took place in Hartford, CT. this past week. The America East University announced that their athletic programs on both the men’s and women’s sides will be dropping from the Division I level to Division III. The formal application will be submitted in Jan. of 2022 and if accepted, the school would become a division three-member in Sept. of 2025. This move is because of money, or the lack of it, from the school’s point of view. Although the actual amount is not being disclosed, it is whispered to be in the millions.
This is despite the men’s basketball team making their first-ever appearance in the NCAA basketball tournament after winning the America East Conference tournament for the first time. The baseball team is also in the hunt for a division title and a spot in the baseball postseason conference event at the end of the month. So what happened? Fundraising, which is the lifeblood of schools that are not power-five schools just was not getting the job done for Hartford. Sponsorship deals were not being found either and the lack of both became a big problem for all of the sports programs on campus. The other culprit was the empty seats these programs play in front of because of the virus. No ticket sales, no concession buys, added up as the year went along. The total loss because of these factors and others forced the university to do an in-house financial report that did not go well.
This report was a year in the making and involved several members of the school’s coaching staff, alumni, and faculty who joined together to form an on-campus task force to look at the business model that was being used by the athletics department. They were joined by a member of the board financial information staff and a nationally recognized athletics consulting firm. It appears that based on their findings that the drop from D 1 to D III was in the best interest of the school in the long term. Needless to say, this news was met with opposition from current student-athletes who felt like their voices were not heard on the matter. Protests took place on school grounds this past Thursday when the announcement was made by school officials.
Hartford Board of Regents chair David Gordon’s statement said “The move to Division III will allow the University to further strengthen the academic, co-curricular, and wellness experience for all students.” While school President Gregory S Woodward stated “I am energized by the opportunities we will have to support the success of our students including our student-athletes.” However, with many of them heading to the transfer portal, the question could be who are the athletes the president is talking about?
As for the conference, after a year of a balanced schedule in all sports on both the men’s and women’s side, next year could be back to the unbalanced version. We will have to wait and see how that plays out. But one thing is for sure, just when you thought the America East Conference was in a good place, things got turned upside down in a hurry.
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