March 11 , 2003
Postcard: Iona latest to cut hockey program

After losing two member institutions in the last five weeks, college hockey fans may turn their "sieve" chants away from opposing goaltenders and toward the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference league office. But the MAAC says it's fully prepared to move forward next season with its nine-team hockey conference.

Iona has decided to drop its hockey program at the end of the 2002-03 season as part of an athletic department realignment. The announcement comes on the heels of Fairfield's decision to eliminate its program last month, and just three days before the Gaels meet Mercyhurst in the MAAC quarterfinals.

In addition to the sympathy for the coaches and players involved, the cuts raise long-term concerns among fans for the future of the conference – and, in turn, the sport.

"It's unfortunate, but we're moving forward," said Ken Taylor, director of championships for the MAAC. "Nine teams is a really good core in terms of a league. If it happens again, people will start getting antsy."

Department realignments are a fact of life in college athletics today, especially given the economic climate.

"While we are sensitive to the fact that this is an unpopular decision in the eyes of many, particularly those it directly impacts, we are also firm in our belief that this is the best decision for the overall well-being of our athletics program as we move forward," said Iona President James Liguori. "We are certainly concerned about the programs and individuals whose lives this impacts and alters. However, we feel that this decision will have an overwhelmingly positive long-term affect on our remaining programs and student-athletes."

“This is the third of our 10 main members to do a realignment this year," Taylor said, "and the second which is dropping hockey because of it.

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

The third of those realignments happened at Canisius – the Griffins dropped football and seven other sports in November. Coincidentally, Canisius is now the lone remaining full MAAC member in its hockey conference (Niagara, also a MAAC school, competes in College Hockey America). But Taylor said that the conference remains steadfast in its support.

"We run associate leagues as a service to our main members," Taylor said. (In addition to hockey, the MAAC has associate members competing in five other sports.) "Canisius College wants a home for its hockey program, and we're committed to providing that."

Meanwhile, the MAAC could refocus its energy on expansion to make up for the lost membership. While Taylor said that "there's absolutely nothing new to report" on the expansion front, schools like Navy, Robert Morris and Rhode Island loom as potential additions.

"Our ADs will get together during the off-season and come up with a plan for what they want to do in the future," Taylor said. "Going forward, you have to discuss whether we need to expand, or whether we want to expand."

Regardless of future plans, none of those schools could be on board as quickly as next season, leaving the MAAC to rework its schedule minus the Stags and Gaels.

And leaving the college hockey community hoping that the cuts stop here.

– Nate Ewell

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