The issue of the WCHA and CHA automatic NCAA tournament bids being put into jeopardy was all but rectified as quickly as it arose.
But the catalyst to the recent crisis remains an interesting issue, with major implications to the future of the MAAC.
As reported by USCHO’s Jim Connelly in a recent MAAC column, the conference has been investigating the idea of splitting into two. It was because of this that the autobid crisis arose.
The discovery that the CHA and WCHA autobids could be in jeopardy was made after MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor went to the NCAA convention in January, trying to understand the ramifications of a potential move by the MAAC to split into two separate conferences.
It was then that everyone realized that new legislation — set to take effect in Sept. 2003 — would eliminate the two autobids, as a result of provisions that require a conference to have six all-sport Division I schools for a period of eight years.
The MAAC has 10 schools (after eliminating Fairfield), seven of which are full-fledged D-I institutions. In order to split in half, and have each conference receive an automatic bid, it would be necessary for five more D-I institutions to join the fold.
It appears the NCAA will “grandfather” in existing conferences such as the WCHA and CHA, but that wouldn’t affect the split-MAACs. That, combined with Fairfield’s departure, makes the idea of splitting quite difficult in the near term.
“I think, obviously, once the issue is settled, whether they grandfather or recreate the rule that it doesn’t apply to hockey or whatever … until that’s clarified, we’re in a holding pattern,” said MAAC Director of Championships Ken Taylor.
Robert Morris, Rhode Island and Navy are the three most prominent schools mentioned as possibilities to join the MAAC. All are full-fledged Division I institutions, but are at varying levels of readiness for D-I hockey.
The main impetus for change is to split the current MAAC hockey schools that have a larger commitment to hockey than others. The MAAC was created in 1998-99 under a big tent, with 11 scholarships as the allowable maximum (as opposed to the 18 allowed by the NCAA). However, many MAAC schools give fewer or no hockey scholarships (Fairfield, for example, awarded four).
“We’ve talked about getting to 14 [schools] with seven [in each new conference],” Taylor said. “It’s difficult to operate with six schools, because if something goes wrong, you lose a school and you’re under six (the NCAA minimum for conference status).”