ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio and Canisius athletic director Tim Dillon paid a weekend visit to Rochester Institute of Technology as part of that university’s bid to become a member of the league as early as the 2006-07 season.
The tour of RIT and meetings with RIT officials, including AD Lou Spiotti and coach Wayne Wilson, marked the third of four steps required for a team to become a member of the league. RIT has completed the first two steps: a formal application and a financial review. Other applicants did not make it beyond the first step, according to league officials.
After representatives of the league complete campus visits, its athletic directors will review information brought to them by DeGregorio and Dillon, and will vote on whether to accept new members. Atlantic Hockey would not disclose whether that vote would be a majority or consensus vote.
Dillon said the league would like to expand to 10 teams, but that expansion will not happen until the 2006 season, to allow Atlantic Hockey “due dilligence” in its selection process.
“We don’t have to do this today or tomorrow. We have our own timeline, and we’re going to stick to it,” said Dillon, during a live radio interview at Saturday’s RIT-Neumann game.
With a reported attendance of 2,061, the game was just 39 short of a sellout at the Frank Ritter Memorial Arena. Last season, RIT averaged 1,256 per game, higher than any team in Atlantic Hockey except Army, which was the only team to average more than 1,000. Eight of the bottom 10 teams in D-I attendance were from Atlantic Hockey.
“To see this kind of environment, this is great for college hockey,” said Dillon.
At least in the near term, men’s hockey will be the only Division I sport at Division III RIT, so the program will not be able to offer scholarships. But Dillon does not see that as an obstacle.
“We can say that some programs don’t have scholarships, but they have other advantages,” said Dillon. “You weigh things out and see what it does for your program … and then you make the best decision you can for the league as a whole and for the individual institutions.”
Dillon, who is also on the NCAA Division I men’s hockey committee, sees the expansion of the D-I ranks as important, especially after the loss of three programs in the last two years. “It continues to show the growth of hockey, and it allows us to push for additional resources at a national level.”
“For a program to go from Division III to Division I, such as [RIT] and especially with the fine academics that [RIT has] and the way that [RIT is] going about things, it speaks volumes not only for the program but also the continued growth of college hockey,” said Dillon.
Although Dillon would not discuss other institutions applying for membership in Atlantic Hockey, DeGregorio confirmed last week to USCHO.com that the league will visit Air Force in January. A departure by Air Force from College Hockey America would reduce that league’s membership to five teams and would remove its automatic qualifier. Dillon was asked if the viability of the CHA was a consideration in the league’s decision.
“It weighs into my thinking on some things, but it’s not a topic I can discuss. When it comes to the Division I ice hockey [committee], there’s six of us, and we deal with a variety of different issues,” said Dillon. “To do what we need to do, we can’t really discuss it.”
Prior to joining Atlantic Hockey’s predecessor, the MAAC, at its formation, Canisius was a member of the ECAC West along with Mercyhurst and Niagara. Those three teams and RIT competed for the ECAC West championship in 1998. The move to a Division I league enhanced the profile of Canisius, and Dillon believes that RIT will see a similar boost.
“We really believe and we’ve been able to show that the exposure for our program has been tremendous. A couple of years ago, we co-hosted the Frozen Four; you saw the Canisius logo right on the ice. You saw Canisius College all over the place. You can’t put a price on that type of advertising.”
The D-I committee has awarded a 2007 regional to Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena, a 11,215-seat venue that is home to the AHL Rochester Americans. Dillon visited the downtown Rochester facility on Saturday. “It’s another nice piece for RIT if things were able to be worked out,” he said. The Blue Cross Arena could be home to an in-season tournament, perhaps even in preparation for the regional.
Rochester, N.Y., is the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States without a Division I sport, but the largest, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is close to D-I sports in Miami.
RIT President Albert Simone hosted DeGregorio and Dillon at the president’s official residence, Liberty Hill, on Friday evening, with members of the board of trustees, vice presidents, and what was described as “other dignitaries” in attendance.
Buffalo Sabres owner Tom Golisano is a member of the board of trustees, and a major benefactor to RIT, having donated $14 million for the construction of the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences.
Scott Biggar and Chris Lerch contributed to this report.