UMass Lowell’s athletic teams will make the leap to NCAA Division I and join the America East Conference, effective July 1, 2013, the school and league announced Thursday morning. The River Hawks were unanimously accepted by the conference after a vote by the America East Board of Presidents.
With Boston University leaving for the Patriot League in the summer, Lowell’s arrival will keep the America East at nine schools.
“We’re excited to have a new member institution in UMass Lowell,” Binghamton athletics director Patrick Elliott said. “I think they’re going to be a great addition to the conference, and they’re similar to a lot of the institutions in the America East. They’re a state school with a very good academic profile, and they’re really looking to have a … quality growth plan in both academic enrollment as well as athletics, so it’s going to be a great thing.”
With the exception of its Division I men’s ice hockey team, Lowell has been a member of Division II since 1975. The River Hawks will be departing from the Northeast-10 Conference, where they’ve been a member since 2000.
“I am thrilled to welcome UMass Lowell as the newest member of America East,” conference commissioner Amy Huchthausen said, according to bubearcats.com. “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.”
Lowell has 17 athletic teams and will add men’s and women’s lacrosse for the 2014-15 season.
While the River Hawks will begin competing at the Division I level in 14 sports in the 2013-14 academic year, they will not be eligible for postseason play until the school completes the four-year NCAA reclassification period. They will become full Division I members of the America East prior to the 2017-18 academic year.
Lowell, which has an enrollment of 16,300, will be the conference’s first expansion team since the 2002 season, when UMBC joined the conference. Binghamton, Albany and Stony Brook were all elected to membership in 2001.
The Bearcats and River Hawks will be rehashing an old rivalry. From 1998 to 2000, the two schools competed against one another as members of the Division II New England Collegiate Conference. Both Binghamton and Lowell are four-year research universities that are ranked inside the top 100 public universities in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.
“I think it’s great to have another institution that in many ways has some similarities to us,” Elliott said. “They’re on a growth trajectory with enrollment … They also have research initiatives that [are] impacting the city itself and the local area, again similar to us … When you’re recruiting student-athletes and you’re in a conference with other schools it’s important that your values are the same, so I think for us, to bring in a member that has similar values is really important.”