In 1984, the University of Hartford moved its athletics to the Division I level and was later accepted into ECAC Northern Atlantic Conference, which would eventually become the America East. Twenty-eight years later, the Hartford Hawks announced that they will once again be moving conference, this time to the Division III Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC).
After a confidential report with details regarding President Gregory Woodward and the University of Hartford Board of Regents’ plan to demote the school’s athletic program from the Division I level to the Division III level leaked to the public, President Woodward sent a string of emails, beginning on April 9th, 2021, to all UHart student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff members in hopes of explaining the situation. In the initial email, President Woodward emphatically proclaimed that no decisions had been finalized, adding that “The University of Hartford [had] been engaged in conversations at the board level regarding providing an exceptional academic and campus experience for all students.”
Then, just six days later on April 15th, 2021, President Woodward provided further information on the matter through another email sent to all UHart student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff members yet again. This time, President Woodward was unequivocally more thorough. He began by apologizing for any anxiety the news may have caused and explained that the University “is committed to honoring scholarships and contracts in any potential future scenario.” Afterward, President Woodward admitted that strategic discussions in regard to providing an extraordinary experience, both academically and residentially, for all students at the university had been ongoing for over a year. Essentially, President Woodward described his intentions of securing the University’s future in several different aspects of college life, such as affordability and student support services, and then delved into the financial difficulties of delivering a Division 1 experience. He later disclosed a “nationally recognized intercollegiate athletics firm” was hired with the goal of providing the Board with useful information that would be used “to achieve long-term and sustainable excellence in [the] athletics program.” Once again, after divulging all this information, President Woodward assured everyone that a decision had not yet been made.
Later that same day, April 15th, 2021, President Woodward addressed the entire campus community, essentially publicizing the news he shared with the student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff members earlier in the day.
Suddenly, on May 6th, 2021, everything changed in an instant. As a current student-athlete at the University of Hartford, this next email was addressed directly to me. Each individual athlete, coach, and athletics staff member was addressed personally, which differs from the group emails each of us was attached to previously. In this email, President Woodward definitively stated the University of Hartford intends to move from Division 1 to Division 3, further explaining that the University’s intent will be officially filed in January of 2022.
No longer was the news circulating around campus and news stations nationwide labeled as mere rumors; these rumors were now facts.
However, this transformation of the University’s athletic program is not an effortless, abrupt change. There is a reclassification process that takes several months, most times years, to enforce. Once the filed intent was approved by the NCAA, the Hartford Hawks would not only have to surrender their position in the America East, the Division I conference that the Hawks had been a part of for nearly thirty years, but they would also need to find a new home. A Division III conference, ideally one centrally located in the New England area so as to make travel and scheduling easier for both the athletics administration and student-athletes themselves, would have to agree to accept the University of Hartford as a new member of their conference. Therefore, although the shocking and, for many, disheartening decision regarding the future of Hartford Hawks athletics was officially finalized, the impeding months, beginning in May of 2021, would undoubtedly be both challenging and unknown.
A 13-month period followed, causing unprecedented uncertainty that saw an innumerable amount of backlash, protests, and, unfortunately for the previous high standard of athletic excellence at the University of Hartford, transfers.
Then, on June 21st, 2022, the school finally announced its intention to join the CCC, a widely and eminently esteemed Division III conference, beginning in the fall semester of 2023. The announcement was made through an Instagram post by the handle @hartfordhawks, and the post, like many of the decisions made within the preceding 13-month period, was met with hundreds of negative comments from alumni, students, student-athletes, and concerned citizens. Most of the embittered messages were not directed at the Commonwealth Coast Conference, but rather at the University of Hartford and its leadership. Almost none of the messages spoke illy of the CCC, the universities already competing in the CCC, or the standards and ethics of the CCC. Instead, a vast majority of the pessimistic and exasperated comments were directly pointed at the school’s initial decision 13 months earlier.
Despite the resounding and fearless effort of thousands of alumni, currently enrolled students, and caring citizens around the country, the University of Hartford will be a member of the CCC by mid-2023, meaning that the Hawks will compete against some highly respected and competitive schools across New England. The University of Hartford will become the 11th member of the CCC, joining Endicott College, Gordon College, Roger Williams University, Curry College, Nichols College, Salve Regina University, Suffolk University, University of New England, Wentworth, and Western New England University. The Hartford Hawks will look to bring their athletic talent, which includes several America East championships across multiple sports and most notably the 2020-2021 Men’s Basketball team that represented the America East in the March Madness NCAA Basketball championship for the first time in school history, to the CCC in hopes of capturing more championships and competing in more illustrious and successful seasons.
As one chapter of the University of Hartford’s athletics program history ends, another begins; this time, it is titled The Commonwealth Coast Conference.