Yesterday we learned that UMass-Lowell will make the move from Division II to Division I athletics next year, joining the Bearcats in the American East Conference to make up for the departure of Boston University, which is set to join the Patriot League next year.
America East commissioner Amy Huchthausen and Binghamton athletic director Patrick Eliott lauded the move, emphasizing Lowell’s strong academics — the school was ranked along with Binghamton as one of the top 100 public universities by U.S. News & World Report — as particularly on par with some of the conference’s central values.
But for all its touted academic prestige, the America East is slightly less prestigious in the area it was devised for: athletics.
The league is a small one, comprised of mostly under-the-radar schools with modest athletic achievements, on a national scale. Though they’ve had their share of conference successes — the volleyball team was the America East champion this year — Binghamton’s sports programs, most noticeably the basketball ones, regularly find themselves at the bottom of the AE’s standings.
Lowell’s entrance into the American East Conference, then, means both good and bad things for the Bearcats.
On the downside, Lowell will never fill the recognition gap that will remain when Boston University leaves the conference at the end of the year. The name-brand status of Boston brought the America East that much closer to the mainstream of Division I sports; viewing numbers and level of recruits followed accordingly. Lowell brings virtually nothing to a conference struggling to make a real name for its self, with teams that garner wider media attention and a greater following.
On the other hand, Lowell’s move to Division I means it will likely struggle to be competitive for its first few years. Maybe, then, Binghamton can climb the standings. Though that may be wishful thinking.
In sum, the America East lost a good team and gained a mediocre one. So really, it went nowhere. That said, we wish luck to the River Hawks. Until you play us. When that time comes around, let the stomp-down begin.