Play Like a Warrior

Athletics continues drive for full Division I status

As the magazine went to press, the Merrimack men's soccer team was selected for the NCAA Division II tournament, the college's second bid in three years.

As the magazine went to press, the Merrimack men’s soccer team was selected for the NCAA Division II tournament, the college’s second bid in three years.

The initiative to move Merrimack athletics fully into Division I is “a top priority for the athletic program and the institution,” said Athletic Director Jeremy Gibson — boldly laid out in the college’s Agenda for Distinction and passionately but methodically pursued by the college.

“We are very pleased with the feedback that we are doing all of the right things to position Merrimack Athletics to make a successful transition to DI when we receive a conference invitation,” Gibson said.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which regulates intercollegiate athletics for nearly 1,300 U.S. institutions, organizes competition into three divisions. Merrimack has 24 teams in competition — two, men’s and women’s hockey, classified as Division I, the rest Division II.

“Athletics is very visible — historically, it’s been a source of great pride for the institution,” said Gibson. The athletics program has boosted its visibility with such moves as “webstreaming athletics events” and partnerships with “local, regional and national media,” including several televised games each season.

That visibility, while important, is one of several factors weighed by Division I athletic conferences when they formally extend an invitation to a school to join.

Merrimack has been focusing its efforts on selected Division I organizations, in hopes of receiving an invitation to join a Division I conference in the near future, Gibson said. They’ve been casting an eye over such matters as Merrimack’s investment in athletic facilities, the growth and success of programs, coaching staff, scholarships and support services such as athletic training programs.

“We’ve received very positive response from various conferences through our conversations, our visits to those schools and their visits to us,” said Gibson. “Ultimately, we need to show them we’re an institution with which they want to be affiliated.”

The story of Merrimack men’s hockey serves as a significant touchstone in those discussions, said the athletic director. “We’re very fortunate to be in a position where they are looking at our long history of supporting a successful men’s hockey program at the Division I level.”

Ultimately, he said, while a Division I invitation is a very public signal that Merrimack is among the mostly highly respected national institutions, the college’s athletics programs are already a stellar success when judged on their own merits.

“Student-athletes at Merrimack,” said Gibson, “have the opportunity to pursue excellence athletically and academically, and that really is what we’re all about.”