December 15, 2004
RIT To Division I, Atlantic Hockey in 2006-07

By James Jahnke

Pledging to stay true to its academic mission while also fielding a competitive team, the Rochester Institute of Technology announced Wednesday that it will elevate its hockey program to Division I status and join Atlantic Hockey for the 2006-07 season.

“RIT has arrived,” athletic director Lou Spiotti said.

The Tigers, a Division III power, will replace Quinnipiac, which is leaving Atlantic Hockey for the ECACHL after this year. RIT will begin its transition by playing roughly 20 games against Division I teams next season, then begin league play the following year. It won’t be eligible for the conference or NCAA postseason tournaments until 2007-08.

Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio extended the invitation to RIT after visiting campus with Canisius athletic director Tim Dillon last month and a subsequent 8-0 vote for admission by league ADs (Quinnipiac was not part of the process).

RIT president Dr. Albert Simone said he held reservations about making the publically wished-for jump to Division I for most of his 13 years in charge of the school. But Atlantic Hockey’s package finally swayed him.

“I was concerned about some of the behaviors of some schools in Division I, and I still am,” said Simone, who initiated the relationship between RIT and Atlantic Hockey with an exploratory letter to DeGregorio this summer. “But we found a conference that shares the same values we have, which is, No. 1, the academic success of our students. And we feel we can be competitive in this league.”

RIT is 7-2-1 overall and 3-1-1 in the ECAC West this season. The Tigers won national championships in 1983 and 1985 and have been the runner-up three times, most recently in 2001. Because hockey will be its only Division I sport, RIT will not be allowed to offer athletic scholarships.

Head coach Wayne Wilson, a member of Bowling Green’s 1984 Division I national championship team, said Wednesday’s announcement will give “a real boost of energy” to campus and the Rochester, N.Y., area as a whole.
Rochester, with a population of more than 200,000 people and a metro area of about 1.2 million, had been the second-biggest American city without a major professional or NCAA Division I sports team (behind Fort Lauderdale, Fla.).

“We promise not to let you all down,” Wilson said.

Minor facilities upgrades, such as refurbishing the visiting locker room, are planned for Ritter Memorial Arena, a recently renovated on-campus building that seats 2,100 and will instantly become one of the top venues in the league. Even as a Division III school, RIT enjoys better attendance than all Atlantic Hockey programs except Army.

Canisius’ Dillon also envisions using the nearby Blue Cross Arena, home of the AHL’s Rochester Americans, for regular-season and postseason tournaments. Blue Cross will host the NCAA East Regional in 2007.

“I’m picturing a doubleheader between two Atlantic Hockey teams and two ECAC teams there,” Dillon said. “We can test operations for the regional and also plant the seed locally that hockey is coming. And I think we could pack the place.”

As for Atlantic Hockey’s future, school president Simone seemed to drop a major hint when he thanked the other eight and “maybe soon to be nine”
schools in the league. The AHA has long been reported to desire at least 10 members. College Hockey America programs Robert Morris and Air Force often crop up as possibilities, as do Division II schools such as St.
Anselm and schools that don't currently have varsity hockey, like Navy or Rhode Island.

But commissioner DeGregorio was vague when Simone’s slip of the tongue was brought up.

“A variety of things have been reported, but nothing is official as of yet,” he said.

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