June 30, 2003
Postcard: What's in a Name?

By Mike Eidelbes

Related Story

MAAC Hockey Schools Form 'Atlantic Hockey'

Sure, it’s a new conference. It has a new name – Atlantic Hockey – and a new commissioner in former Merrimack director of athletics Bob DeGregorio, who served as Hockey East boss in the ’90s and is currently that league’s treasurer. On the surface, it’s just the nine schools from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference hockey league – American International, Army, Bentley, Canisius, Connecticut, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart – extracting themselves from the aegis of the MAAC’s oversight.

Certainly, there have already been a number of questions asked about this new league. Does it bring from the MAAC the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament for its playoff champion? Yes. Will the 2004 conference tournament still be held at West Point in March? You got it. Any chance they’ll lure Miami and Virginia Tech into the fold? I think you’re on the wrong page, buddy.

Atlantic Hockey Schools

American International
Holy Cross
Sacred Heart

Of course, we could argue about what the league’s letterhead might look like, or discuss the merits of Atlantic Hockey officiating. But that would be a waste of time.

There’s only one question out there, a question that hasn’t been answered, and one that determines the on-ice future of this fledgling confederation of hockey-playing institutions:

Will the league permit its schools to award the maximum number of scholarships allotted by the NCAA?

In theory, being part of a hockey-only league should lead to a stronger commitment to the sport from its members. You’d think a conference like Atlantic Hockey that has its own leadership structure – and not one that’s splitting its time in an effort to legislate the operation of 25 sports, like the MAAC – would be able to forge ahead with a directive that was heretofore impossible under the previous arrangement.

That being said, Atlantic Hockey is arguably the weakest of the six conferences from top to bottom. College Hockey America isn’t exactly the Smythe Division, but it is to college hockey what the Mid-American Conference is to football. The league boasts some solid programs (such as Alabama-Huntsville, Bemidji State and Wayne State) that can beat just about anyone in the nation, much like a Bowling Green or a Toledo can jump up to topple an Iowa or North Carolina on a given football Saturday.

The same is not true about Atlantic Hockey, and a big reason was the MAAC's limit of 11 scholarships per school (as opposed to the NCAA's limit of 18). The former MAAC schools have been the iceberg lettuce of college hockey when it comes to non-conference play – there’s really no nutritional value to them, but they’ll fill you up until the main course arrives. They’ve traditionally been good for opposing coaches looking to rack up confidence-building wins at home and maybe get the second goaltender or a seventh defenseman into the mix for a couple games.

MAAC Hockey
Through the Years

1998-99 Original members: American International, Canisius, Connecticut, Fairfield, Holy Cross, Iona, Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart
1999-00 Add: Bentley, Mercyhurst
2000-01 Add: Army
2001-02 No changes
2002-03 No changes
2003-04 Drop: Fairfield, Iona
Nine remaining schools split from MAAC and form Atlantic Hockey

Throw in a full complement of scholarships, however, and while the playing field doesn’t become level, it’s not like trying to scale Kilimanjaro any more. Maybe the kid who would’ve been a fourth-liner at New Hampshire would rather earn a free ride to Quinnipiac, where he’d be a second-line guy. A walk-on defenseman at Providence could instead be a star on the power play at Holy Cross, if he had school paid in full. And perhaps the goalie that committed to Northeastern would head to Mercyhurst on the school’s tab because he thinks he’s got a better chance of getting to the NCAA Tournament with the Lakers.

Those scenarios are not as far-fetched as one might think. Our theory posits that kids will go anywhere they can get a scholarship. Don’t believe it? If players are willing to go to Fairbanks or Grand Forks free of charge, they’ll be willing to go to Erie and Worcester, too.

Granted, in order for such a change to happen, most of the Atlantic Hockey members would have to do some juggling to free up money for scholarships, not an easy task given the budget constraints facing the majority of colleges and universities. But now is the time for these schools to push the edge of the envelope.

You’ve taken one big step today, Atlantic Hockey teams. Adding scholarships will allow you to run to catch up with the pack. Use this momentum to your advantage, or risk being left behind.

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