Good morning, and thanks for your continued support of Extra Points.
I'm still out in Vegas for the SBJ event, and will be until Thursday afternoon. But I did have enough time to share some thoughts on another stop on my Connecticut tour from last weekend...a trip to see Sacred Heart.
If you had asked me back in 2019 what I thought about Sacred Heart...I probably would have assumed you were talking about the hospital from Scrubs.
Of course, Sacred Heart isn't just the setting for a paint-by-numbers-comfort-sitcom from the 2000s. It's also a D-I university in Fairfield, Connecticut.
SHU faces many of the same challenges that other mid and low-major athletic departments do. Founded in 1963, SHU is one of the youngest institutions in D-I, regularly competing against institutions that had a good two hundred-year head start in cultivating fans, alumni and political capital. It sits in a crowded market, with five other institutions in Connecticut alone (not counting Hartford, which is transitioning to D-III) to say nothing of the numerous nearby colleges in other states, along with professional sports.
Unlike some other smaller institutions, SHU has a big athletic department. The school currently sponsors over 30 varsity programs, along with a robust club sports roster, meaning the school supports a higher number of athletes than some P5 institutions. Even on a relatively modest budget, that system appears to be working so far. The university can leverage a large athletic department to stabilize and grow enrollment and tuition revenue, athletes get high-level competition opportunities, and fans get plenty of chances to watch the Pioneers play.
That's a perfectly sensible playbook that several D-I schools follow. But Sacred Heart wants to do more than just participate in high-level sports. They want to be nationally competitive.
Typically, when mid-majors make that decision, they push their resources into basketball or occasionally FCS football.
Sacred Heart is making a big bet on hockey.