February 5, 2003
Future WCHA, CHA auto-bids in jeopardy

NCAA legislation punishes college hockey conferences

February 6 Update

Competition and Championships Cabinet recommends "grandfather" clause

Inside College Hockey Exclusive
By Mike Eidelbes

College hockey officials are working feverishly to preserve the Western College Hockey Association and College Hockey America’s automatic NCAA Tournament bids, which would be eliminated next season by legislation that is scheduled to be phased in by the NCAA in September.

“The hockey community was definitely not aware,” WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod told Inside College Hockey Wednesday morning, “and some other sports really didn’t even know this happened.”

NCAA Automatic Qualifier Rule
(scheduled to go into
in September)

1) Conference must have at least six core institutions that satisfy continuity-of-membership (a core institution is one that has been an active member of Division I the eight preceding years).

2) Conference must have at least six core institutions that have conducted conference competition (conference championship) together in Division I the preceding two years in the applicable sport.

3) Any new member added to a conference that is satisfying the continuity-of-membership requirements shall not represent the conference as the automatic qualifier until it has been a Division I member for at least two preceding academic years.

Source: NCAA.org

The provision requires conferences to have no fewer than six full-time Division I members – schools where every sport is Division I – in order to receive auto-bids for NCAA championships in any sport. Furthermore, each of those schools must have maintained Division I status for at least six years.

"It's a Division I membership issue that does go across all sports," said Ken Taylor, director of championships for the MAAC, a league whose automatic bid is not at risk under the rule. "Its intent is to promote the multi-sport conferences. (The legislation) has been done for three years, just nobody picked up on it."

Taylor said the MAAC discovered the situation while exploring the possibility of splitting its hockey-playing members into two separate conferences. MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor called the NCAA to find out when the additional league would be eligible for an automatic bid. The NCAA told Ensor that, as of September, they wouldn't be eligible under this rule, forcing the MAAC to shelve the plan for the time being.

"The commissioners' group (Ice Hockey Collegiate Commissioners' Association) met in January," Taylor said, "and that's when Rich Ensor discussed the issue with the other commissioners."

The CHA has just two full-time Division I members in Air Force and Niagara. The WCHA, which has produced more than 60 percent of the NCAA champions in the tournament’s 51 years of existence, counts Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin as its sole full-time Division I members.

“For the WCHA the practical aspect is not huge, because we’re going to get our teams in,” McLeod stated, “but it’s a devastating thing for the CHA and…for any growth in new conferences.”

When contacted by Inside College Hockey, CHA commissioner Bob Peters acknowledged that his conference’s automatic bid would be affected by the change, but chose not to comment on the matter, saying it’s too early to speculate on the outcome of the issue at this time.

The measure was on the agenda of the NCAA Competition and Championships Committee, whose meeting in Indianapolis ended Wednesday. Most of the discussion took place in a sub-committee meeting Monday. McLeod did not attend the sessions, but said all indications are that the committee is looking at solutions to the dilemma, be it through proposal of new legislation or by amending the current edict. The NCAA is also in the process of determining how many conferences are affected by the change.

NCAA Division I Ice Hockey Conferences
(full Division I members in italics)

CCHA: Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Miami, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Western Michigan

CHA: Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville, Bemidji State, Findlay, Niagara, Wayne State

ECAC: Brown, Clarkson, Colgate, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Union, Vermont, Yale

HOCKEY EAST: Boston College, Boston University, Maine, Massachusetts, Mass.-Lowell, Merrimack, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence

MAAC: American International, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Connecticut, Fairfield, Holy Cross, Iona, Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart

WCHA: Alaska Anchorage, Colorado College, Denver, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State-Mankato, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin

Any modifications to the rule would have to be approved by the NCAA Management Council at its spring meeting. The Management Council is comprised of 46 members representing the 31 Division I basketball conferences. Some leagues get more than one vote – the Big Ten, for example, has three representatives on the Management Council, while the MAAC has two.

"(The Management Council) put this standard in, and when they review it in April there will be a lot of questions from certain sports about its implementation," Taylor said. "Hockey, lacrosse, volleyball and wrestling are the big ones affected."

McLeod is guardedly optimistic the issue will be resolved and the WCHA and CHA won’t lose their automatic bids. He states that key members of the NCAA are involved in the process, including Division I Chief of staff David Berst, Director of Membership Services and Division I Governance Liaison Stephen Mallonee and Ice Hockey Championship Coordinator Tom Jacobs.

“Because of the growth of our championship, the NCAA as a whole is more aware of our circumstances than ever,” McLeod states.

According to 2001 financial data found on the organization’s Web site, the Ice Hockey Championship, which expands from 12 to 16 teams starting this March, was one of four NCAA Division I postseason events to turn a profit. The others are also men’s sports – baseball, basketball and wrestling.

“Everybody understands that this is ridiculous,” says McLeod. “I don’t want to be disparaging about the MAAC, but you’re telling me the MAAC can get an automatic qualifier and the WCHA can’t?”

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