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BOSTON GLOBE: “Stonehill Faculty needs extra publicity. Can Division 1 sports activities assist it get there?”


BY Michael Silverman
The Boston Globe

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Stonehill Faculty is stepping up.

Since saying its rise to Division 1 athletics within the spring, the personal Catholic faculty in Easton has already skilled a bump in enrollment based mostly on the transfer, in addition to a deeper recruitment pool of athletes.

With the brighter highlight and stiffer competitors comes the potential for extra income. The change additionally arrives when the flux in faculty athletics is at an all-time excessive, with energy convention grabs, energy vacuums, and a brand new name-image-likeness panorama.

Stonehill’s transfer is neither coincidental nor a hindrance. It is a possibility. One which the Skyhawks couldn’t cross up.

“The best danger is just not doing something,” mentioned athletic director Dean O’Keefand. “Increased training is definitely a aggressive trade, and to take a seat again and hope issues work out is the largest danger.

“We have been actually proactive, making an attempt to make selections that put Stonehill in the very best place for fulfillment. We have been lucky at Stonehill to have the assets and the soundness and the power to do this.”

In April, Stonehill accepted an invite to develop into the ninth member of the five-state Northeast Conventionand. Competitors on the Division 1 stage started this month, with 20 of Stonehill’s 23 varsity sports activities on the NEC schedule this season. Equestrian and males’s and ladies’s ice hockey are working exterior of the NEC for now.

The official reclassification will take 4 years, that means Stonehill will develop into a full-fledged member capable of partake in all the advantages of Division 1 membership within the fall of 2026.

The journey started six years in the past, when a activity drive gathered to gather data and place the Northeast-10 Convention faculty to make an informed determination about what was finest for it if a possibility arose. Two years after that, in 2018, Merrimack Faculty made the soar from the Northeast-10 Convention to the NEC.

Final fall, as Stonehill was internally forming a consensus that making the soar made sense, talks between the college and the NEC started. On April 5, one week after Bryant left the NEC to hitch America East, Stonehill and NEC introduced their partnership.

“As a lot because it’s an athletic change to go from Division 2 to Division 1, the choice was rooted in our strategic plan as an establishment to inform extra folks in new markets the story about Stonehill,” mentioned O’Keefe.

“It wasn’t in any respect a query of what was improper with Division 2, it was what finest serves the imaginative and prescient of the school, and that chance to showcase Stonehill on a bigger stage was actually, actually compelling.”

For the NEC, bringing in Stonehill made excellent sense.

“I simply had a way we could be shedding Bryant sooner or later, and so with [Stonehill] being in the identical geographic footprint, that helped within the ease of transition, scheduling and the like, and being up in that Boston market was additionally useful,” mentioned Noreen Morris, NEC commissioner.

“And when colleges wish to be part of, it is, ‘Who do they need to companion with?’ They take a look at it in a manner of, ‘How can this partnership additionally assist us in our recruitment of scholars and for the publicity of our establishment throughout the board?’

“So in that sense, I feel it was a win-win for us that they match our profile fairly effectively, and a win-win for them in that it introduced them in some markets they weren’t in earlier than, and elevates them to Division 1 from an athletic standpoint, extra from a branding and advertising perspective.”

A historical past of success

The announcement made a direct impression. O’Keefe cited a survey through which 36 p.c of Stonehill freshmen cited the Division 1 transfer as an element of their enrolling — a choice that for some got here lower than a month after that announcement.

O’Keefe added that his division has already seen an “elevated curiosity in Stonehill from a wider pool of athletically gifted student-athletes.”

And whereas the college is just not deemphasizing these student-athletes’ curiosity in teachers with regards to recruitment provides, he expressed confidence that the division will be capable to construct applications that may compete efficiently within the NEC and on the Division 1 stage.

“We anticipate the transition from Division 2 to Division 1 to offer some powerful exams towards many established Division 1 applications, and likewise know our student-athletes will expertise wins and plenty of accomplishments to have a good time throughout their inaugural yr in Division 1,” mentioned O’ Keef.

O’Keefe’s optimism relies partly on previous success on the Division 2 stage. Stonehill was a six-time winner of the NE-10 Presidents’ Cup — based mostly on the general athletic standings of all groups — most not too long ago in 2019-20, and has earned 119 NCAA match bids by means of the years. That features three nationwide champions: girls’s lacrosse in 2003 and 2005, and Corey Thomas in indoor excessive soar in 2011.

Basketball has been a power as effectively. The ladies’s crew appeared in 26 NCAA Division 2 tournaments, reaching the finals in 1995. And the boys appeared in 15 tourneys, with three Elite Eight appearances and one semifinal.

This season, nevertheless, as an alternative of dealing with Boston Faculty or Windfall in exhibitions, the boys’s crew faces them within the common season. Plus, in Sport 1, the Skyhawks will journey to Storrs, Conn., to sq. off towards perennial powerhouse UConn.

“Division 1 is the very best aggressive stage of collegiate athletics, and in consequence our groups can have the chance to measure themselves towards the perfect,” mentioned O’Keefe.

One logistical benefit is healthier journey for Stonehill groups, which typically needed to bus so far as West Virginia or western Pennsylvania for out-of-conference Division 2 video games.

“We’re actually lucky within the Northeast,” mentioned O’Keefe. “There are plenty of actually good Division 1 establishments that we will play which might be an hour’s bus experience away.”

Change is within the air

From a income perspective, the NEC will enable Stonehill to obtain choose convention cash and grant distribution assets instantly. The chance to at the very least sip from the trough of big-time NCAA revenues comes as soon as its four-year transition is full.

Thanks primarily to the TV, advertising, and ticket income from the annual March Insanity males’s basketball championship, roughly 60 p.c ($540 million) of the $900 million generated by the match is distributed to Division 1 colleges and conferences.

The opposite big-revenue faculty sport is soccer, however on the Soccer Bowl Subdivision stage the place the Energy 5 and Group of 5 conferences play (and Stonehill doesn’t), the NCAA finds itself on the surface wanting in. Convention powers are rising on the similar time gamers’ alternatives to monetize their identify, picture, and likeness are simply starting.

With NCAA president Mark Emmert leaving subsequent yr, the group — with its 180,000 Division 1 student-athletes, 6,700 groups, 350 colleges, and 32 conferences — is in its personal transition interval. Change is coming, and the following few years will doubtless be extra tumultuous than secure.

O’Keefe needs to maintain Stonehill’s modifications feeling minimal, particularly within the current.

“As a lot as we all know it is a actually good alternative and can do nice issues for our establishment in 5 years and 10 years, we need to be sure that it is good at the moment for our student-athletes,” he mentioned. “They don’t seem to be as involved about what it does for our establishment 10 years from now.

“We might be excited for our college students to have an opportunity to show their ardour and their craft right into a method to generate some income for themselves.”

O’Keefe mentioned that between sponsorships, ticket gross sales, and an energized alumni base, the college ought to expertise progress that may be shared schoolwide.

“All in all, we take a look at it extra holistically than athletics being siloed from the remainder of campus,” he mentioned. “It is the outdated [adage] ‘[The] rising tide floats all boats.’ We’re actually excited that athletics goes to assist academically and socially with the campus as a lot as it is going to make our student-athletes compete at the next stage.”

What the Division 1 panorama will appear to be in a couple of extra years, no person is aware of. However Stonehill will not must look as much as acquire the view.

“No person can predict the way forward for the place the NCAA goes,” mentioned O’Keefe. “However we knew if we’re along with establishments which might be like us and have the identical aspirations and targets, we’ll determine it out collectively.”

Michael Silverman could be reached at Comply with him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.

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