Mercyhurst’s athletic budget and size are in line with other NEC teams


The question arose ten years ago.

Why, Joe Spano wondered, did Mercyhurst University’s athletic programs compete in the NCAA Division II? Many schools that “looked like Mercyhurst,” the Laker baseball coach at the time reasoned, competed in Division I.

Ten years after a group of Mercyhurst coaches and administrators asked the above question, Spano – now the university’s athletics director – announced plans to jump from D-II to D-I, leaving the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference for the Northeast Conference .

What makes Mercyhurst positioned to make such a move? By several key metrics, the university looks more like its new NEC peers than the PSAC.

Mercyhurst spends just like NEC schools

According to 2022 U.S. Department of Education data, Mercyhurst’s athletic expenses totaled approximately $16.6 million.

The eight other schools that will form the NEC in 2024-25 spent an average of $17.8 million on athletics. However, the PSAC’s seventeen other schools spent an average of $7.5 million on athletics.

These figures include an average of $3.5 million spent on football by NEC schools, while PSAC schools spent an average of $1.2 million on football. Mercyhurst spent $2.51 million.

NEC schools also pay their coaches more.

Head coaches of male NEC varsity teams received an average of $84,587 and head coaches of female teams earned $65,989. PSAC head coaches earned an average of $65,929 and $53,710, respectively.

Mercyhurst paid head coaches of male teams an average of $50,914 and those of female teams $36,190. These numbers were less than every PSAC school except Shepherd and Pitt-Johnstown, but they were not far behind NEC members Saint Francis ($57,772; $42,037) and Le Moyne ($53,951; $50,473).

Mercyhurst’s staff of 54 assistant coaches, 17 of whom work full-time, resembles an NEC athletics department, which employs an average of 17 full-time and a total of 48 assistants. PSAC schools employ an average of eight full-time and a total of 35 assistants.

The size of Mercyhurst is similar to NEC schools

The PSAC’s 17 schools have an average population of 4,027 students. NEC schools now have an average of 2,726 students.

Mercyhurst has 2,246.

The conferences are shockingly similar in terms of student-athlete population: NEC schools enroll an average of 544 student-athletes and PSAC schools average 540. That means that, like Mercyhurst and its 670 student-athletes, a higher percentage of students at NEC schools participate in athletics.

New NEC members are catching up

NEC Commissioner Noreen Morris emphasized during her recent trip to Mercyhurst that the school’s athletic programs can and will thrive in DI.

“It’s really important to us that we have a school that aligns with where we see athletics, how it plays into the student-athlete experience, and that it’s part of the educational experience,” Morris said. “When we looked under cover, (Mercyhurst) that connection was a really good fit for the (NEC).”

The 2023-2024 academic year is the last in the NEC for Merrimack and Sacred Heart. They will be replaced by Mercyhurst and Chicago State to maintain NEC membership at nine schools.

Also new to NEC are Stonehill and Le Moyne, who joined in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Stonehill resembles Mercyhurst in key categories: It has 2,438 students and 678 student-athletes, and it spent $12.2 million on athletics in 2022, including $1.8 million on football.

Le Moyne’s athletics budget lagged at $8.5 million, but there were only 429 student athletes and no football team. Chicago State, which serves just 260 non-football student-athletes, spent $8.3 million.

However, you don’t win competitions by spending money. This also applies to having more students than the opponent.

Stonehill and Le Moyne have shown that immediate success in DI is possible. Could Mercyhurst follow a similar path?

“Just like Division II, you’re selling an experience,” Mercyhurst football coach Ryan Riemedio said. “I think if we can continue to let (recruits) know what kind of academics they’re going to receive here at Mercyhurst, who we’re going to play and things like that, I think that’s really the excitement that comes with it.”

Contact Jeff Uveino at [email protected]. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @realjuveino.