LOWELL, Mass. — The University of Massachusetts Lowell’s athletic teams will move up to Division I, joining the America East Conference, it was announced Friday at UMass Lowell’s Tsongas Center.
The America East Board of Presidents unanimously approved accepting the University of Massachusetts Lowell as a member of the conference effective July 1, 2013. The move also received the unanimous support of UMass Lowell’s Faculty Senate Executive Committee and Student Government Association.
“UMass Lowell is an outstanding addition to our membership and an ideal fit for America East,” Stony Brook University President and Chairman of the America East Board of Presidents Dr. Samuel L. Stanley said.
University of Maine Athletics Director Steve Abbott said bringing the school into the fold will benefit his program.
“We have a very strong rivalry with them in hockey and there’s a great working relationship between the two institutions,” Abbott said. “Geographically, it’s tremendous for us to have a school that’s so close competing at our level.”
With the move to America East, the 16,300-student UMass Lowell will join institutions in America East that are of similar size and are also four-year research universities, the majority of which are public. Those include the UMaine, University of New Hampshire and University of Vermont, already fellow members of Division I Hockey East with UMass Lowell.
“It’s great for our conference and great for soccer in our conference,” said UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley. “It enables us to replace Boston University [which is joining the Patriot League next summer].
“From a logistical standpoint, it gives us another close game like New Hampshire and, by the sound of the commitment they’re making, they will be a competitive program,” Atherley said. “It’s a win-win all the way around.”
Adding UMass Lowell also will help solidify America East baseball and field hockey, both of which are at or below the NCAA minimum to retain automatic postseason qualification.
“It will be the sixth field hockey school and you need at least six schools to keep your automatic qualifier to the NCAA Tournament,” said Black Bears baseball coach Steve Trimper. “It’ll give us a seventh team in baseball. It will be our closest rival.”
Trimper expects the River Hawks to be a competitive program.
“Their baseball coach, Ken Harring, is a great coach. He was at Northeastern for many years. He knows how to do it. It’ll be a good program,” Trimper added.
UMass Lowell will begin competing in 14 sports in the 2013-14 academic year, but will not be eligible for postseason play while it completes the four-year NCAA reclassification from Division II to Division I. The River Hawks will be full Division I members of America East for the 2017-18 academic year.
As a full member of America East, UMass Lowell will join the University at Albany, Binghamton University, University of Hartford, UMaine, University of Maryland Baltimore County, UNH, Stony Brook University and Vermont.
Fairfield University and Providence College are associate members of America East in field hockey and volleyball, respectively.
“I am thrilled to welcome UMass Lowell as the newest member of America East,” America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said. “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. UMass Lowell has those assets and will strengthen America East in all facets.”
UMass Lowell, with more than 88 degree programs in its six colleges, is ranked as one of the top 100 public universities in the nation and as a top tier national university by U.S. News & World Report.
With the exception of its Division I men’s ice hockey team, UMass Lowell 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.
“I congratulate UMass Lowell on this exciting accomplishment and I look forward to cheering on the River Hawks in the upcoming season,” said Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
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 2003-04 academic year.