NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Sports

February 15, 2013

UMass Lowell to join America East and elevate sports programs to Div. 1

(Continued)

In fact, the school’s recreation center, which is across the street from LaLecheur Park, is one of the most popular buildings on campus.

“One of the things we looked at was we wanted to see what our peer schools were doing,” said Pierson. “These were research institutions that ranked in the upper tier (in U.S. News & World Report). We identified eight schools, including UNH, URI, Virginia Commonwealth, Georgia State, San Diego State and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lo and behold, we realized each of them was a Division 1 athletic school. It was a real eye-opener.”

When the committee went forward and started looking at university’s facilities, they came to realize the existing facilities were not only up to Division 1 caliber, but in some cases better than most schools in the country.

Tsongas Arena, which the school bought from the city and state in 2010, has become one of the top collegiate hockey arenas in the country thanks to $10 million in renovations. LaLecheur Park, where UMass Lowell baseball plays all of its home games and is also home to the Red Sox short season-A team, Lowell Spinners, also ranks among the best college ballparks in the country at all levels.

“When we bought Tsongas (Arena), it was losing about $1.1 million a year,” said Meehan. “But honestly, that is one of the key reasons we are probably here today, moving to Division 1. That is a special facility that can be used for men’s and women’s basketball, too.”

UMass Lowell’s performance on the athletic fields the last decade appears to have also played a major role in expediting the process, too.

The only Division 1 program at the school, its hockey team, has performed exceedingly well under second-year coach Norm Bazin on and off the ice, making it to the NCAA Division 1 quarterfinals last winter. The current team is ranked 11th in the country and, as impressive, 15th in attendance nationally as a member of highly regarded Hockey East.

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