University of New Haven seeks to upgrade athletic status

The University of New Haven has begun the ambitious process of becoming an NCAA Division 1 (D1) school. Director of Athletics and Recreation at the university, Sheahon Zenger, said that this movement is necessary for growth and will “provide more opportunities and a better experience for both student-athletes and the student body.”

The process of becoming a D1 school is not one that occurs overnight but may take three or four years to complete.

Of the NCAA’s three divisions, D1 is the most competitive for its athletes and schools. Member institutions must sponsor at least seven sports for both men and women, as well as additional scheduling criteria. Schools with football teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) have to meet attendance and the minimum financial aid award range requirements.

In 2029, there is an expected enrollment cliff among colleges; because of the declining U.S. birth rate post-2008 recession, fewer students will be attending institutions of higher education. According to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPAHR), northeast universities are expected to lose more than 11% of their overall enrollment. By being a D1 school, the university will attract a greater number of athletes and students.

Zenger said that the priority in becoming a D1 school is to “find the right conference to fit in,” and to “enhance the student experience while also maintaining the integrity of the university’s athletics.”

The university’s athletic department is nationally recognized for its excellence and seeks to continuously improve. This includes the vision of the Peterson Performance Center, the first athletic facility to be built on campus since 1969. The Center will feature a full strength and conditioning center and a new locker room for the football team. The Department of Athletics and Recreation has already announced that women’s rugby will be offered as a varsity sport in fall of 2021 to begin competing in spring of 2022. This is the third varsity sport added since 2017, following field hockey and e-sports.

Strengthening the university’s athletics department and elevating the overall student experience is paramount to Zenger and the entire administration, “I do college. I love college. And I want every student at this university to love college too.”