NJIT athletics has officially gained across-the-board active membership in NCAA Division I, beginning Sept. 1, 2009. The NCAA made the announcement in a news release posted on its official website and in direct correspondence with NJIT officials.
As a result of the latest action by the NCAA’s Division I Leadership Council, NJIT, its teams, and student-athletes will enjoy the full benefits of Division I membership, including eligibility for Division I postseason championship competition and the potential inclusion of Highlanders among the national Division I leaders in statistics maintained by the NCAA.
In the previous three seasons, as part of the NCAA’s formal reclassification process, NJIT’s teams faced Division I competition but were not eligible for postseason championships or for inclusion in the national statistical rankings.
The NCAA’s decision that NJIT is a full member of Division I completes a specific timetable that required NJIT and its Department of Athletics to meet a series of annual benchmark standards before proceeding to the next year in the process.
NJIT, which previously competed in NCAA Division II, first moved to reclassify its men’s soccer program in 2003, with active Division I status arriving in 2005. NJIT women’s soccer became postseason-eligible in 2007.
The remainder of NJIT’s 19-sport athletics program also began reclassifying in 2005 (the process is longer for an entire program than under the single-sport-per-gender track used for the two soccer teams).
In 2005-06 the lion’s share of the competition came at the Division II level. In 2006-07, 2007-08, and 2008-09, NJIT’s teams competed at the Division I level and were in full compliance with NCAA Division I rules.
As part of the reclassification, every facet of the program has been enhanced, with a special emphasis placed on student-athlete welfare. Game and practice facilities have been upgraded, along with sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and academic enrichment. NJIT has also built a strong NCAA Division I rules compliance regimen within its athletics program and across the NJIT community.
A key late benchmark in the process came in the spring of 2009, with the NCAA’s announcement of NJIT’s successful completion of the NCAA Division I certification self-study. An in-depth project that takes approximately one year to complete and involves an on-campus visit from a Peer Review team, Division I certification, renewable every 10 years, is required of all active Division I institutions.
“We completed a major milestone in demonstrating that we have the infrastructure in place and the commitment to compete at the highest levels, not only academically but now athletically as well,” said Robert A. Altenkirch, PhD, who has made upgrading NJIT athletics a priority since he was selected as the seventh president of NJIT in May 2002. Robert English, the Faculty Athletics Representative and Interim Dean of the School of Management, added, “I am very impressed with NJIT’s student-athletes who have worked hard to meet the challenge of the heightened level of Division I competition and at the same time continued to excel academically, with many athletes earning academic honors and awards and several earning perfect 4.0 GPA’s during the semester of competition.”
Further, the NJIT Board of Trustees embraced the transition to Division I as part of the university's strategic plan to enhance the quality of campus life as part of the transition to a residential university.
Going back to early announcements of NJIT’s plans to reclassify to NCAA Division I, Altenkirch stated: “As NJIT continues to grow academically, and as a residential university, strengthening the athletics program through the transition to Division I will allow us to align the university with our academic peers.”
Already, NJIT’s teams have competed throughout the U.S., taking on opponents from schools that are instantly recognizable for their stature in academics and athletics.
Through three seasons of reclassification, NJIT teams and student-athletes have faced opponents from seven of the eight Ivy League schools (all except for Brown) and all eight Patriot League schools, including Army and Navy, Bucknell, Lafayette, and Lehigh.
In addition, Highlander teams have taken on teams from such famed conferences as the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East Conference, Big Ten Conference, Pac 10 Conference and Conference USA.
Two such opponents--the University of Maryland in men’s soccer in 2005 and Penn State in men’s volleyball in 2008—won national championships following the same regular seasons in which they faced NJIT.
The Highlanders have also competed against members of all of the conferences based in the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States, including America East, Atlantic 10, Colonial, Metro Atlantic, and Northeast.
NJIT, the eighth New Jersey-based institution in Division I, has competed against all seven of its home state peers, including Big East programs Rutgers and Seton Hall.
NJIT’s longest-established Division I program, men’s soccer, gained its first win against a Big East foe in 2008, defeating Rutgers a little more than a year after NJIT topped San Diego State for the Highlanders’ first win over a Top 25-ranked team.
With its place in Division I officially certified by the NCAA, NJIT is looking ahead to continued growth. That outlook is consistent with President Altenkirch’s frequently expressed view that, “the transition to Division I is just that, a transition, a process rather than an event.”
For his part, NJIT Athletics Director Lenny Kaplan, who received word of the latest NCAA action by telephone, said: “We’ve worked hard toward this goal and it is a big step for the program. We look forward to being a solid and successful member of Division I and we are excited by the opportunity to write a new chapter in the history of NJIT athletics.”