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February 13. 2013 10:04PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Instant rivals for Wildcat athletics

DURHAM -- A RALLY this morning cross the state line in Lowell, Mass., and news out of Wisconsin could shape University of New Hampshire athletics schedules in the years to come.

The University of Massachusetts-Lowell has called a news conference for 11 a.m. this morning in the Tsongas Arena where school administrators are expected to announce that the school's athletics programs are being elevated to Division I and that they will join the America East Conference for most sports.

The River Hawks, who are likely to be in America East next year, will become instant rivals of UNH in men's and women's basketball as well as other sports.

UNH men's basketball coach Bill Herrion could not confirm the UMass-Lowell news, but likes the idea.

"If UMass-Lowell does come in, I think from a regional and geographic standpoint it's a real positive for the University of New Hampshire," Herrion said. "They've been a quality Division II program and I think all their sports in Division II have been very competitive."

Lowell already competes in Division I against UNH in Hockey East.

The news out of Wisconsin, where University of Wisconsin director of athletics Barry Alvarez announced that Big Ten schools had agreed would no longer play games against Football Championship Subdivision schools, will limit the field of possible opponents for the Wildcats.

UNH has played football games against two Big Ten schools in recent years. The Wildcats won a game at Northwestern, 34-17, to open the 2006 season and lost at Minnesota, 44-7, in their second game of the 2012 season.

Many FCS teams across the country step up a level to play schools like Minnesota and Northwestern, which are in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The FCS teams and generally receive guarantees of upwards of $300,000 to play the games.

Leagues such as the Big Ten are concerned that playing FCS teams in the future will affect their national rankings and strength of schedule as that division moves to a playoff system.

UNH has played one FBS team a year for most years in the last decade and has most often played teams out of the Mid-American Conference.

"I don't know much about it, but if you look at the Big Ten, you're losing 12 opportunities for games," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "It limits your opportunities. I hope it doesn't go through the country because playing in those places and those venues gives our kids great experiences. On the financial side, it's always big for a lot of people involved and it is part of our budget and helps us along."

UNH opens the 2013 season at Central Michigan, an FBS school and member of the Mid-American Conference, on Sept. 7.

The school has not announced any FBS opponent on the schedule beyond Central Michigan.

Wisconsin's Alvarez made the statement about Big Ten schools not playing FCS schools in a radio interview.

He did not say when the agreement would take effect.

As for Lowell, the River Hawks with their expected announcement will go from being a Division II rival of St. Anselm, Franklin Pierce and Southern New Hampshire University in the Northeast-10 Conference to a UNH opponent in America East.

America East has been looking to add at least one team to replace Boston University, which is leaving for the Patriot League at the end of the season.

alessels@unionleader.com


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