The WCHA and CHA could lose their automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, beginning in 2004, under new rules clarified at the January NCAA Convention in Anaheim.
The Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee was recently advised of the news by NCAA Director of Championships Tom Jacobs during their most recent regularly-scheduled conference call.
Section 126.96.36.199 of the NCAA manual says, “To be considered eligible for automatic qualification, a member conference (including a single-sport conference) must include six core institutions that satisfy continuity of membership. For the purposes of this legislation, core refers to an institution that has been an active member of Division I the eight preceding years.”
In other words, the WCHA and CHA do not have six all-sport Division I schools, as now required to receive an automatic bid.
The rule was implemented to discourage all-sport conferences from splitting in half, and therefore getting two automatic bids. However, its effect on the WCHA and CHA were made clear at the NCAA convention, and, as it stands, those conferences will not be grandfathered in.
College hockey could have been blindsided had the issue not come to light after the MAAC had approached the NCAA for clarification on a related matter.
According to sources, Robert Morris, Rhode Island and Navy have all recently inquired about upgrading their hockey programs to Division I varsity status, and joining the MAAC. This prompted the MAAC to consider the possibility of splitting in half.
MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor approached the NCAA Championships Cabinet about the ramifications of such a move, and its implications on automatic bids.
In so doing, the NCAA informed the hockey community of its interpretation of the new rule, and its effect on the WCHA and CHA.
Of the 10 current WCHA teams, only Denver, Minnesota and Wisconsin are Division I schools. In the CHA, only two of the six — Air Force and Niagara — are D-I institutions.
According to Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, the NCAA did not set out to harm ice hockey. This circumstance, he said, is just an unfortunate byproduct of the shift in NCAA philosophy in recent years, towards an emphasis on Division I all-sport conferences.
“There’s no villain here. The system as it is set up simply doesn’t work well for who we are,” Bertagna said.
There are 50 schools that have chosen to “play up” to Division I in some sport. Twenty-five of those are in ice hockey. A full 42 percent (25 of 60) of Division I ice hockey schools are not all-sport Division I institutions.
Other examples of this: The NCAA only allows representatives from full D-I schools, or all-sport D-I conferences, to sit on committees. And only all-sport Division I conferences can propose legislation.