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Reports: Lowell to go Division 1 in everything

February 13, 2013

Just a few months ago we heard some rumors that Lowell was preparing to move to Division 1 in all sports, a move that has long been whispered but often without much cause. You could have gone through any number of back issues of the Sun to read all about how the River Hawks should be going Div. 1 for all the dumb reasons you might expect the Sun to spew, but those the result of were ill-founded speculation at best or daydreaming at worse.

But then, around the time it started to come out the Merrimack was also considering such a move, talk now supported by its putting up a job listing for a Div. 1 women’s hockey coach on its site, we started to hear similar discussions about Lowell. Nothing concrete, and they went away pretty quickly. Mainly stuff about how determined Chancellor Marty Meehan was to get the school bumped up from Div. 2. The rumors started picking up again around winter break. There was talk that representatives from America East, a conference that’s home to four of Lowell’s Hockey East rivals — UNH, Maine, Vermont and BU (though BU is leaving at the end of the semester for the Patriot League) — would be touring facilities in the near future, if they hadn’t already.

Now, it seems, they have, and they liked what they saw. A number of reports, including from Scott McLaughlin and Mike McMahon from the College Hockey News, have an announcement about the move to Division 1 happening soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.

It goes without saying, we think, that we have some thoughts on the matter.

First of all, we don’t think the move should come as any surprise. Again, this was long-rumored, and once we heard it was a goal of Marty Meehan’s to get things done, then we knew it was going to happen far sooner rather than later. We did not, despite some cautioning about just how imminent an announcement might be, think it would come before the end of the school year. We, obviously, were wr- wrrrrr- a little off-base.

Let’s also cover some of the other stuff we’ve heard or thoughts we’ve had about the move:

  1. Obviously, there will be Title IX inequities that have to be addressed, and we, like many of you, have heard that this could come through the addition of a women’s lacrosse program. While we’d prefer the school add a women’s hockey team to compete in Hockey East, we also recognize that this is unlikely even as Merrimack does it, largely due to the constraints the Tsongas Center will bring. Which brings us to…
  2. One of the major impediments that has always been mentioned whenever the prospect of Lowell moving to Div. 1 is brought up is that Costello Gym isn’t big enough to be a Div. 1 basketball arena. It’s not. The obvious solution, then, is to move the both teams’ games to Tsongas Center, which will look cavernous and empty every night because Lowell’s basketball games might pack out a tiny gym on occasion, but even a sold-out Costello would fill a small fraction of Tsongas.
  3. There’s a lot of work to do to get the school up to speed Div. 1-wise. Obviously, athletic budgets would have to skyrocket, some estimates say they would have to double. We wonder where that money comes from.
  4. It will be interesting to see how this affects support from locals and students. It’s no secret that the vast majority of Lowell’s athletic events are sparsely attended, and even the hockey team drawing big crowds every game is a relatively recent phenomenon brought on by all that winning and a tremendous marketing push. We have no doubt that a Div. 1 team playing schools people have actually heard of before will draw more interest than a Tuesday night game against, say, Assumption, at Costello Gym, but just how much of a bounce that gives Lowell is obviously up for debate. Again, the athletic department has been terrific in attempting to get more students through the doors for all kinds of games, but they’re going to have to work overtime now.

And of course, there is the fact that we have no idea how any of this affects the hockey team, which is obviously our primary concern. One of the issues that Lowell suffered for a very long time, and it was arguably the primary reason that the program almost got canned twice in the early and mid-2000s, was that the school treated the hockey program as it did any other sports team on campus. That was all well and good for the egalitarians on campus, but the fact of the matter was always that the only Div. 1 program should have been treated as being better than, say, track and field. The funding was obviously bigger, but there was a feeling that you couldn’t do more to push the hockey team without stepping on any toes. Once the program was almost taken away, attitudes changed, and Lowell very quickly sorted out its priorities. They’re seeing now how receptive the local communities, both surrounding and student, can be to that kind of effort.

But if every team is Div. 1, how does that affect the way the hockey team is treated? It can no longer be held on a pedestal on the basis that No. 1 is better than No. 2, but the fact will remain that it’s the school’s biggest revenue-generating sport by a fairly wide margin, and will still deserve to be treated as such. It won’t be easy to do, from a political standpoint, but that’s the way it should be. We would say the same about Merrimack’s move to Div. 1 whenever that happens; the hockey team should come first because no one, relatively, yet cares about the other teams.

Of course, there are also the logistical problems that such a move might pose for the hockey team. If the basketball teams are playing home games at Tsongas Center, then the hockey team won’t be able to practice there some days (this is what likely precludes the immediate inclusion of a women’s hockey team), and will have to go over to, say, Skate 3 or Chelmsford Forum or Nashua to get ice time. They’re already making these concessions for concerts and other events at the arena, but this will likely exacerbate what right now might be a minor issue into something more.

We have our concerns, obviously, but they aren’t that big and frankly, anything to raise the profile of our fine school is something we will support. We’re having a hard time believing this is happening at all, given the myriad rumors and false starts for years and years on end, but it apparently is, and we’re pretty happy with it.

In closing, we would like remind you all that Lowell’s new conference rivals all suck. UNH? Awful. Vermont? No one cares. Maine? Disgusting. Binghamton? Stupid. UMBC? Don’t know what that even stands for. Stony Brook? Pointless. Hartford? It’s in Hartford. Albany? The absolute worst.

Lowell, on the other hand, rules. Lowell forever. Forever Lowell.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. jrobes01 permalink
    February 13, 2013 2:23 pm

    Great stuff as always. Excellent news for Lowell, but obviously athletic budgets are going to have to go way up and this had better not affect hockey negatively!

    I’d argue that Costello IS big enough for D-1 though, at least America East anyway. Only 3 teams in America East had average attendances higher than Costello’s capacity. I’d rather see Lowell play in a full or at least half-full Costello than a cavernous Tsongas where even a crowd of 3,000 would look dead.

    2011-2012 Average Home Attendance

    Albany 2480
    Binghamton 2781
    Boston University 1103
    U. Hartford 1076
    Maine 1284
    New Hampshire 819
    Stony Brook 1540
    UMBC 1476
    Vermont 2494

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