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    Monday, September 25, 2023

    University of Hartford leadership fails its athletes, coaches and alums

    How ironic — or suspicious — that less than a month after the University of Hartford's greatest athletic triumph comes news that its hierarchy is considering a plunge from Division I to D-III.

    Indeed, the cheers from men's basketball first foray into March Madness had barely softened to echoes when news leaked of the university's alleged fiscal woes and dubious future in Div. I.

    Is this legitimate? A cheap ploy to grab the attention of alumni and encourage more giving? Or a complete marketing airball, given how men's basketball coach John Gallagher had masterfully painted the Monet of the Hartford experience as "the neighborhood," only to be sabotaged by members of the same neighborhood?

    Now we have an answer. Sources at the university obtained — or actually took a screen shot — of recent e-mail messages sent between professor Warren Goldstein and University president Greg Woodward. Goldstein was teaching a history class via Zoom on one side of his screen and e-mailing with Woodward with the other. Members of the class saw the exchange:

    President Woodward (to Goldstein): "Use your voice. Write an editorial. Get Senate and other far groups to pass resolutions or write letters to the Courant in support of the move."

    Goldstein: "I thank you for this wonderful response, Greg. I don't know how much organizing I can do, but I will definitely write something, hopefully for the Courant."

    President Woodward: "Warren, it's best if you just speak to the Mission of the University and the disconnect that has grown over the years between D1 sports and the university mission. Be a faculty member with smart opinions on a more equitable experience for all your students, wellness, health, etc. It will be a part of the puzzle that needs to be said, and you can let me, and the spin doctors do the numbers."

    There you have it. A railroad job.

    Somebody on campus better counsel President Woodward or remove him. This much I know: Hartford's hierarchy better answer the question The Clash once asked — should I stay or should I go — quickly. This time in purgatory about Div. I vs. Div. III is killing any recruiting ability whatsoever for all Hartford coaches.

    Any other Div. I coach in a recruiting race for a kid against Hartford has the easiest sales pitch possible now: "Hartford? Why would you want to go there? They're going Div. III. Haven't you heard?"

    And the longer the indecision goes, the more the athletic program is imperiled. That's not bad leadership. That's no leadership.

    Hartford commissioned a report from CarrSports, a national firm led by led by former UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway, about its athletic landscape. CarrSports reported that UHart is losing $13 million per year on athletics, cannot self-sustain and should consider dropping to Division III, where athletic scholarships are not given.

    I have my own suspicions about the report. But then, I have suspicions about any report. Because reports generally say what the people paying for them want them to say. How do we know the poohbahs who asked the report aren't anti-sports and are looking for a cheap excuse to save money? (I guess we know that to be true now.)

    I reached out to a friend of mine who has extensive experience in both Div. I and Div. III athletics. Full disclosure: He does not have specific knowledge of Hartford's bona fides, but knows college sports administration intimately as he is still involved.

    "I don't know enough about UH's situation to guess what their motivation is," my friend said. "I would love to see the actual report, as I'm willing to bet it doesn't do a great job of explaining what D-III is really all about. A number of years ago I was consulting for a foundation in New York City, and I had to analyze a similar report that Rice University had done. The people that wrote the report (a big-time consulting outfit) were clueless about D-III."

    Which invites the next point: Just because Hartford wants to drop to Div. III doesn't mean there's a landing place. What, the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC, where Coast Guard resides) wants an erstwhile Div. I school with 4,793 undergraduates? Coast Guard a little more than 1,000. Springfield about 2,500.

    And why would the folks in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), otherwise known as Ivy League Light, welcome Hartford?

    "What conference would UH play in if they were in D-III? Not sure," my friend said. "Schools with enrollments closer to 1,000-2,000 want to partner with a school of similar size. And Hartford would likely want to be with schools that have strong academic reps. News flash: NESCAC ain't gonna happen."

    I'm not sure why this wasn't blindingly obvious to Hartford even before this "study" was commissioned.

    Then there are tuition/scholarship numbers. Seems some colleges use them to write better fiction than Hemingway.

    "Analyzing athletic department budgets is something of an art," my friend said. "For example: Full boat to go to Hartford is about $60,000. They accept 76 percent of applicants, so it's not very academically 'selective.' They are largely tuition driven. So, while they very likely charge the Dept. of Athletics $60,000 for every full scholarship, that's not the actual cost to the school.

    "At more selective places, an argument could be made that every scholarship athlete is taking the place of what would be a full pay student. I don't think UH could logically make that same argument."

    Again: I don't get this, especially on the heels of the greatest public relations achievement for the school in recent memory. Gallagher and men's basketball, from the time they won the conference on ESPN to the day they played Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, was a one-week infomercial. Hartford could have and should have capitalized on the newfound fame to cultivate new revenue streams and resurrect old ones.

    Instead, the university president advocates "spin-doctoring," students are left to write petitions, coaches are fending off negative recruiting and self-sabotage threatens the viability of the whole place.

    Our corner of the world is filled with proud Hartford grads, many of whom are former athletes. They deserve better than this. So does everyone else on campus. Hard to fathom Hartford leadership, or lack thereof, has screwed up John Gallagher's goodwill tour in less than a month.

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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