Hartford athletes sue in attempt to block school from moving from Division I to Division III

HARTFORD, Conn. -- A group of athletes and student managers at the University of Hartford has filed a federal lawsuit in attempt to block the school from downgrading its athletic programs from Division I to Division III.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, argues the school is breaking promises made to the athletes when they were recruited to Hartford, including that "they would be able to participate in a Division I athletic program for up to five years.''

The university's board of regents voted in May to make the transition to Division III after a consultant's report concluded the move could save the school more than $9 million a year.

The school, which joined Division I in the mid-1980s, plans to submit a formal request to the NCAA for reclassification in January 2022. It plans to stop offering athletic scholarships before the 2023-24 school year and hopes to complete the transition by Sept. 1, 2025.

The school has said it plans to honor all current scholarships and coaching contracts. It issued a statement Wednesday saying it is reviewing the lawsuit but is confident that the decision to move to DIII "is in the best long-term interest of our students and the institution.''

Lawyers for the seven athletes and two student managers named in the suit argue the board and school President Gregory Woodward relied on inaccurate and misleading information in making their decision.

They allege the consultant overestimated the costs associated with running a DI program and underestimated the costs of a DIII program, saying the savings would be $1 million, not the $9 million estimated in the report. They also argue the consultant's report ignored the fact that it will take seven years to fully transition the school.

The decision has been the subject of several protests on campus and Woodward was forced to leave a commencement ceremony in May after being interrupted by boos and jeers.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and a permanent injunction that would block the move.