On heels of first NCAA hoops bid, Hartford student-athletes outraged over decision to downgrade from DI to DIII

Sadly, it looks like they are waving goodbye to any future March Madness.
Sadly, it looks like they are waving goodbye to any future March Madness.
Image: Getty Images

The University of Hartford men’s basketball team set a new standard for the university in 2021, earning the program’s first ever March Madness tournament bid. Despite losing to eventual tournament champion Baylor in the first round, the ground-breaking achievement was celebrated by the entire Hartford community.

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However, the fanfare was short-lived, as less than two months since that game was played, the University’s Board of Regents voted to transition the school from Division I to Division III.

In case you don’t know the differences between Division I and Division III college athletics, in essence, the higher the division, the more focused on scholastics the university wants its student-athletes to be. In fact, Division III doesn’t allow athletic scholarships at all. So student-athletes who committed to Hartford under the impression that they’d be receiving an athletic scholarship will no longer be getting theirs.

“A move to Division III will allow the University to further strengthen the academic, co-curricular, and wellness experience for all students. While we know this decision will disappoint some members of our community, we remain confident that this shift is in the best long-term interests of the institution and all its students,” Board Chair David Gordon said in a statement.

Now, you would think this means the University of Hartford’s student-athletes have been struggling in the classroom. Why else would they make this move? But that’s not the case. As recently as 2019, Hartford had a 94-percent Graduation Success Rate (GSR) among its student-athletes. That mark matched the school’s all-time high, set just one year prior in 2018.

The athletes affected by this transition are obviously furious about the cost-saving decision made on Thursday. Already, Hartford student-athletes have led multiple marches and created petitions in an attempt to reverse the Board of Regents’ ruling. Members of the University of Hartford softball team even went as far as to black out their school’s name on their jerseys.

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Although, it’s probably safe to say that this move is an enormous slap in the face to the men’s basketball program there. The men on that team worked for hours on end, multiple times a day to achieve that tournament bid. It’s an honor most basketball players, let alone average people, get to experience. To have that happiness muddied by the fact that nobody on that team will get an opportunity to return… it’s almost cruel. The team’s head coach, John Gallagher, took to Twitter to express his displeasure with the decision as well .

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Gallagher did claim that every coach — himself included — and eligible player, will return for the 2021-2022 season.

This is a dishonor that no student-athlete should have to endure. Hartford has been a part of NCAA Division I athletics since it made the jump from Division II in 1984. Although most student-athletes in Division III still receive some sort of financial aid from their university, per the NCAA, the money is almost meaningless in the face of Hartford’s disservice to all the hard work its athletes have put in to maintain their school’s athletic prowess. All I can say to the athletes affected is… best of luck in the transfer portal. You deserve better.