Hartford to transition to Division III from Division I after first March Madness appearance

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INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Austin Williams #20 of the Hartford Hawks reacts to a play during the game against the Baylor Bears in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Division I Mens Basketball Tournament held at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 19, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)
Hartford is going back to Division III. (Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Hartford made history this year with its first-ever appearance in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. It could end up being the school's only appearance.

The Hartford board of regents voted Thursday to transition the university's athletic programs from Division I to Division III, according to Lori Riley and Alex Putterman of the Hartford Courant. The change will end a tenure in the NCAA's top division that goes back to 1984.

The transition will begin when Hartford submits a formal request to join Division III in Jan. 2022, with the hope of reclassification no later than Sept. 1, 2025. Current scholarships and coaching contracts will be honored in the meantime.

From the Courant:

“It’s a day of mixed emotions for us, without question,” board of regents vice chair Kathy Behrens said in an interview. “The board has been thoughtful and careful in our deliberations. I thought the discussion we had this evening was reflective of that.

“I think this was clear this was the direction the board felt we should go in. Having said that, we realize it’s disappointing to a lot of people. We feel like it sets the university up on a good path for long-term success.”

Why make the controversial change? A consulting firms' report commissioned by the school president reportedly recommended the transition, claiming the reduced aid to athletes, coaching salaries and athletic department costs would save the school more than $9 million annually. The Courant notes that the true savings will be more modest, though. 

Hartford reached March Madness this year

Such a chance comes with cruel timing, as the Hartford men's basketball team just completed the most successful season in school history

After 36 years of falling short, the Hawks made their first-ever March Madness appearance this season via a stunning run in the America East tournament. Hartford upset top seed Vermont and then topped UMass Lowell to make the tournament, where it lost 79-55 to No. 1 seed and eventual champion Baylor. 

ESPN notes that most of the team's key players are set to return for next season, but we'll see what they think of the change, which doesn't go into effect for years.

The change will obviously affect more than just the men's basketball team. There's the women's basketball team, which has made the NCAA tournament six times, a baseball team that counts MLB Hall of Famer Jeff Bagwell among its alums and a women's soccer team with 13 regular season America East championships.

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