The ECAC West will switch to a three-game format for its regular season beginning as soon as 2005-06, and is considering expanding its conference playoffs.
The schedule change was agreed to during a conference call on Monday.
Under the new format, each team would play each other team in the conference three times, with two games as a weekend series at one school, and a single game at the other. The two-game series would alternate between the two opponents each season.
The new schedule will increase the number of league games to 18 from the current 12. Before Lebanon Valley joined the conference for the current season, there were only ten games on the conference schedule, and prior to the addition of Utica and Neumann, only six.
“It is important that teams play more than half of their games as league contests to make the season more meaningful,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor, whose Statesmen won the conference and made the NCAA playoffs for the first time last season. “This change will also help with scheduling, as coaches won’t need to scramble to find so many non-conference opponents.”
RIT coach Wayne Wilson agreed with Taylor’s assessment. “We’ve had a lot of pressure to get games. Everyone but the [SUNYAC] have kind of locked us out because they are so restricted on what they have available to play. It has become a much bigger job of coaches to make a schedule than it should be.”
A proposal has also been forwarded to the conference’s athletic directors by the coaches to expand the playoffs to six teams from the current four. This season, the ECAC West will have the lowest percentage of teams making the playoffs among D-III conferences. Some leagues include all members in the postseason.
“It is unfair for a national-level team not to make the playoffs. It is unfair to the students and to the players,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “Having a higher percentage of teams in the playoffs would fix that.”
Under the proposal, the top two teams in the regular season would have a first-round bye, with single-elimination games between the third and sixth and fourth and fifth teams on the higher seeds’ home ice. The remaining four teams would play in a single-elimination tournament at the highest seed on the following weekend.
Athletic directors at the league’s member schools would have to approve funding for the extra playoff round.
Expanding the playoffs to six teams would allow two more schools to host playoffs, and would make some late-season games more meaningful.
“I think it will be healthy,” said Wilson. “As a coach, I want a race that goes right down to the last game of the regular season. Teams need to be playing for making the playoffs, or getting home ice, or earning a bye. I think that keeps things very competitive right to the end. And I think it is healthy for the league to give everyone a chance to host a playoff game.”
The ECAC West has expanded to seven teams — the minimum required for a Division III NCAA automatic qualifier — with the addition of Lebanon Valley. But the conference will have to wait at least until next season for the autobid; the league must apply to the NCAA and must play one season meeting the requirements for the automatic qualifier before receiving it.
That autobid could be short-lived, though, if RIT’s hopes to move to D-I and join Atlantic Hockey bear fruit.
Prior to the upcoming season, ECAC West teams have been able to qualify for the NCAA postseason only through the lone Pool B at-large bid. This year, teams in the conference will also be able to vie for one of two Pool C at-large bids as Pool B conferences become eligible for the first time for Pool C.
ECAC West conference play begins Friday, Nov. 5. Neumann starts its non-conference schedule under new coach Dennis Williams in a weekend series at Geneseo this Friday.
Includes reporting by USCHO.com staff writer Scott Biggar.