Sixteen seconds after the opening tip, D.J. Mitchell launched the University of Hartford into history, taking the Hawks’ first NCAA Tournament shot. Before he could even see where the ball had landed, Mitchell collided with Baylor forward Mark Vital and crumbled to the ground, rolling his ankle so badly his head coach had to help him off the court. As he sat watching his Hawks continue on in their first-round matchup against the eventual national champions, the junior guard thought nothing could match the emotional swings of those first few seconds in Indianapolis.
And then Mitchell returned to campus, riding the wave of support of the “neighborhood,” as the Hartford fan base bills itself, still cocooned in the joy he and his team felt as they exited Lucas Oil Stadium, only to find out his university president was considering snipping the Hawks’ wings just as they had started to soar. WTNH News 8 in Connecticut reported that Gregory Woodward had commissioned an outside study that argued Hartford could save $10 million if it dropped its athletics programs from Division I to Division III. The school sponsors 15 sports, plus a men’s and women’s eSports team.
But backed by that neighborhood, the Hartford basketball program and the other 300 Hawks athletes are fighting back. A group calling itself “Friends of the Neighborhood” hired economist Andy Schwarz, best known as the savior of Alabama-Birmingham football, to examine the original study, produced by CarrSports Consulting, the same group that had suggested UAB eliminate football.