Big move for UD Athletics
Photos by UD Athletic Department November 28, 2023
Delaware Athletics has accepted an invitation to join Conference USA as a full member
Editor's note: On Friday, Dec. 1, Blue Hen Athletics announceed the University of Delaware will add women’s ice hockey as a varsity sport and join College Hockey America (CHA), effective July 1, 2025.
University of Delaware Athletics has accepted an invitation to join Conference USA as a full member, effective July 1, 2025.
As a result of this announcement, made Nov. 28, Blue Hens football will transition to the Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), the sport’s highest level of competition in the NCAA.
“Our football program has a proud, 130-year tradition of excellence, and it has achieved and maintained tremendous positive momentum in recent years, including six national championships. We are thrilled to be joining Conference USA and stepping up to the highest level of Division I football competition, which will elevate the reputation and visibility of our entire Blue Hen Athletics program and galvanize our loyal alumni and fans,” UD President Dennis Assanis said.
“UD ranks among the nation’s leading public research institutions and is recognized nationally for delivering exceptional professional outcomes for our students,” Assanis continued. “Joining Conference USA will present opportunities to not only broaden exposure of our athletics programs, but also enhance awareness and visibility of our excellent academic offerings, our ground-breaking research initiatives and our enduring impact on our community and the world.”
The Blue Hens will compete in Conference USA in baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, cross country, football, men’s and women’s golf, women’s soccer, softball, men’s and women’s tennis, track and field, and volleyball. More information regarding the other seven athletics programs, plus the addition of a varsity women’s sport at UD, will be shared as it becomes available.
All UD varsity programs will remain in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) through their 2024-25 seasons, with all sports except football next season maintaining eligibility to compete for conference championships and NCAA postseason play.
Currently, the NCAA requires a two-year transition period for football teams moving to FBS from the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), in which the Blue Hens currently compete. The University of Delaware will play a Conference USA football schedule beginning with the 2025 season, when it is eligible for a regular-season championship. UD will complete its full transition to FBS in the 2026 season, when the team is eligible to play in a bowl game.
“The opportunity to join Conference USA is a very proud moment for our entire University,” said Chrissi Rawak, director of athletics, community and campus recreation. “With this step forward, we will continue to offer an incredible student-athlete experience and elevate the visibility of all that is remarkable about UD. We couldn’t be more excited for the entire state of Delaware.”
The Blue Hens, who played their first football games in 1889, have won six national championships. The storied program ranks seventh in wins among current FCS programs and 34th among all Division I programs. Annually, the Blue Hens compete for conference championships and participate in the FCS playoffs. Graduates of UD’s football program regularly ascend to the highest level professionally. Notable former UD football student-athletes include Super Bowl champions Joe Flacco, Gino Gradkowski, and Troy Reeder; former NFL MVP Rich Gannon; and two-time Pro Bowl defensive back Mike Adams.
“The University of Delaware Board of Trustees unanimously approved UD Athletics’ acceptance of Conference USA’s invitation,” said UD Board of Trustees chair Terri Kelly. “This is an exciting moment for the University and Blue Hens Athletics, and we share in the collective support and enthusiasm.”
The University has always set the bar high. That is true on the field of competition and in the classroom.
UD’s academic programs are among the nation’s best and its research classification places the University in the top 3% of all U.S. universities and colleges. Individually, its researchers have helped invent iPhone touch technology and joined the effort to create building materials on the moon. Announced in September, UD ranks No. 76 among national universities and No. 38 nationally among public universities, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 Best Colleges rankings. In addition, the 2024 edition of Best Graduate Schools, U.S. News & World Report has ranked 22 University of Delaware graduate programs among the best in the nation, including 10 in the top 50. UD is also a top-50 university in the U.S. for veterans and active-duty military.
That academic reputation for excellence also translates to UD student-athletes who complement their athletic success with strong academic performances. In the 2022-23 academic year, Blue Hens compiled a cumulative 3.286 grade-point average — the highest in department history, excluding academic terms impacted by COVID-19. This marked the ninth-consecutive year and the 19th-straight semester in which UD student-athletes have posted a 3.00 GPA or better.
“We are excited to welcome the University of Delaware to our league,” said Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeod. “I am confident that UD, along with our current members, will strengthen the quality of play and academic profile of Conference USA as we look toward our next chapter.”
Recent upgrades have brought the University’s athletics facilities to levels that are comparable with current FBS programs. In 2021, UD opened the Whitney Athletic Center — a 90,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility that houses athletic training, hydrotherapy, performance nutrition, sport psychology, sports medicine, strength and conditioning and a space for study, academic advising and career readiness. A year earlier, in 2020, UD completed a renovation of Delaware Stadium that included upgraded seating and new club spaces for an enhanced fan experience and a state-of-the-art press box.