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Soaring Higher to Division I

14 Athletic Teams to Join America East in 2013-14 Academic Year

UMass Lowell Image

By Julia Gavin

With several hundred students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans in attendance, the University announced that all of its athletic teams will be Division I members as of July 1, 2013. With the move, the River Hawks will join America East, a conference featuring many of the University’s peer institutions. 

“All throughout the membership evaluation process, our conference’s leadership has stressed the importance of finding peer institutions with similar profiles and an infrastructure of strong academics, competitive athletics programs and outstanding facilities,” says America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen. “UMass Lowell has those assets and will strengthen America East in all facets.”

Excitement and support for the transition has been felt across campus and beyond in the short time since the division, University community and Board of Trustees all approved the action. America East has the division’s third-highest Academic Progress Rate and features schools similar to the University’s size, teams and academic focus. The America East Board of Presidents, the University Faculty Senate Executive Committee and Student Government Association all approved the shift unanimously.

"This is about the academics of this institution," Chancellor Marty Meehan said. "This is about where we've been and where we're going as an institution. You're associated by those teams you play, and those universities that are a part of your league. And we belong in America East."

The University will elevate 14 of its teams to Division I and add men’s and women’s lacrosse in the next few years. Men’s ice hockey will remain in Division I Hockey East. While the shifted teams will not be eligible for postseason play while they complete the four-year NCAA reclassification, student athletes and coaches are excited for the changes.

“At first I was nervous,” says Margaret McSpiritt, a junior civil engineering major on the women’s soccer team. “But I want to be a part of this change and now I’m excited to play in Division I. I’m looking forward to getting more practice time with the team, traveling, playing at different levels of competition and the challenging games ahead.”

Field hockey head coach Shannon Hlebichuk ’98 is also excited for the move. The team, which Hlebichuk led to two Division II national championships, will be eligible for postseason play in two years as part of the reclassification agreement.

“This is a great opportunity for the University,” says Hlebichuk. “We identify with the Division I academic and athletic philosophy and will be in good company with other teams.”

The University will join the University at Albany, Binghamton University, University of Hartford, University of Maine, University of Maryland Baltimore County, University of New Hampshire, Stony Brook University and University of Vermont in America East. In addition, Fairfield University and Providence College are associate members of America East in field hockey and volleyball, respectively. Boston University will depart America East for the Patriot League following the 2012-13 academic year.

“UMass Lowell has been preparing for this move forward for more than 100 years,” says Athletic Director Dana Skinner, who has been with the University for more than 25 years. “The decades of alumni, the generations of accomplishment on the fields of knowledge and on the fields of play have propelled UMass Lowell to this place on this day in the top tier of college athletics.”

University supporters say moving to Division I will benefit the school as a whole and elevate its profile.

“This move will add value to the degrees that students receive from UMass Lowell because being a Division I school will add to the prestige of the institution by strengthening the reputation of the university not just in this area but around the country,” says Student Government Association President Brian Dano, a marketing and finance major from Merrimack, N.H. “I hope one day to watch UMass Lowell athletics on ESPN in the not too distant future.”

With the exception of the Division I men’s ice hockey team, the University has been a member of NCAA Division II since 1975 and a member of the Northeast-10 Conference since 2000. Since 2000, the River Hawks have made 104 NCAA post-season appearances, won two team national championships, had two individual national championships and a pair of national players of the year, one Olympian, won 59 conference championships, had 214 All-Americans and 32 Academic All-Americans.

America East was formed as a men’s basketball-only conference in 1979 as the ECAC North. The league became an all-sports association as the North Atlantic Conference in 1988. The conference changed names to America East in 1995. The addition of UMass Lowell is the first expansion since 2002 when UMBC was elected to membership effective for the 2003-20004 academic year.

For more on the University’s move to Division I, read Chancellor Meehan’s letter to the community.