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College Hockey:
This Week in the SUNYAC

Questions Unanswered

A few weeks ago, I filed what I expected to me be my last column for 2005-6. I already said my thank you and farewells.

However, two key items have developed since then which I felt was necessary to talk about now instead of waiting six months. Unfortunately, there are two questions that cannot be answered at this time, but are still worth talking about.

Thus, here is definitely my last column for the season. And no love letters this time.

More Expansion?

Back in January, I wrote about the expansion of the SUNYAC hockey league from eight to nine teams with the addition of Morrisville. It will be three to four years before the Mustangs are a full-fledged member of the NCAA Division III and the SUNYAC. At the time, I said there appears to be no future expansion plans on the horizon.

It appears I may have spoken too soon.

A recent article in the Utica Observer-Dispatch mentioned SUNYIT is requesting $20 million of funding from New York State to build a sports complex. The facility will have space for ice hockey, basketball, indoor soccer and lacrosse, and an indoor track. The 126,000 square foot field house will seat about 4,000 people. It will also be used for large college events as well as by the community.

The first obvious question is what are the chances of the money being approved? The SUNYIT Athletic Director, Kevin Grimmer, reminded me how New York State works. Having lived my whole life in the Empire State I know all too well how these sort of budget issues can take much longer than originally planned. If they happen at all.

Thus, it is no surprise when Grimmer was very reserved in discussing this issue. Long range plans and long shot were some of the expressions he used.

One political reason this may happen is the current gubernatorial campaign is using the economic woes of upstate NY as a key strategy to win the votes for this area. The state Assembly and state Senate just may be willing to pass this sort of funding if they think it will help their party candidate in the November elections by showing they are helping build and provide jobs for the upstate region.

Let’s assume the complex does get built. Does that mean SUNYIT will create a hockey team?

“Eventually we hope to have hockey,” Grimmer said. “When you are a northeast or New York school, hockey is a popular sport to have.”

SUNYIT is looking to grow their school both academically and athletically.

“We’re a small school,” Grimmer said. “We need to add some more academic programs, but we also hope to grow the athletics department.”

Thus, it will be a long range process for all this to develop. SUNYIT was just like Morrisville, originally a two-year technical school formerly called Utica Tech that has made the transition to a four-year institution and joined the NCAA.

If SUNYIT does eventually start a hockey program, it will be the best of both worlds for the SUNYAC. With Morrisville being added to the SUNYAC, the larger sports such as basketball are happy that they will now have an even number of teams (12). However, this meant that hockey went to an odd number, messing up their travel partners.

However, since SUNYIT is already a member of the SUNYAC, their addition will have no effect on sports like basketball, but it will allow hockey to have a nice even 10 teams. Plus, they will be a perfect travel partner with Morrisville. In fact, those two schools will be the closest travel partnership in the SUNYAC.

Knowing the State of New York, I have to admit that I am pessimistic about the funding for this project getting approved. However, if it does come through, then I am very optimistic that SUNYIT will bring the second Division III hockey team to the Utica-Rome area, growing the SUNYAC to ten teams.

Travel Partnership Distances

Just for kicks, I decided to look up what the distances were between the travel partners, assuming Morrisville and SUNYIT become travel partners. I used the official address of the schools, which usually meant the administration buildings. However, since all the schools’ rinks are on campus, it’s close enough. These are driving distances rounded off, using the most reasonable route.

Morrisville-SUNYIT: 35 miles
Brockport-Geneseo: 50 miles
Buffalo State-Fredonia: 54 miles
Cortland-Oswego: 75 miles
Plattsburgh-Potsdam: 90 miles

New Playoff Format?

There’s been a lot of talk about changing the SUNYAC playoff system next year. Though I stated on the message boards to expect the change to happen, I may have spoken too soon here as well. It’s not a slam dunk (or should I say, an empty netter) after all.

The issue is all due to the fact that the current system makes it virtually impossible for two SUNYAC teams to make it into the NCAA playoffs. Plus, the winner of the SUNYAC championship can also suffer with a lower seed. Then, there is the possibility of playing three games followed by just two days rest if they have to compete in the play-in game.

There are too many games in the SUNYAC playoff system which results in teams possibly losing too many games-even if they win the championship-that hurts their criteria in the selection process. Many leagues have abandoned this system. The NCHA used to use two-game playoff formats, but now they just use that for the quarterfinals. Afterwards, they play single games in the semifinals and finals on separate weekends on campus sites.

I don’t believe they should change this system purely because too many games may tire the winner out heading into the NCAA playoffs. This is only an issue if they play in the play-in game.

It wasn’t too long ago when Plattsburgh won the national championship beating an undefeated team on their own home ice in 2001. And they played all three games in the SUNYAC finals. They returned to the national semifinals the following year after once again playing in all three games in the SUNYAC finals. In 2003, Oswego made it to the national final game, were leading going into the third period, after also playing all three games in the SUNYAC finals.

Changing the system is going to meet some resistance. The coaches can suggest it (and even they are not all on the same boat), but it is the athletic directors who ultimately have to approve it.

One advantage is that Plattsburgh’s AD, Bruce Delventhal, is a key member of that committee, and he is a hockey guy. However, there are some ADs that are only going to look at the dollars and cents.

One proposal is to let all eight teams in, play the first round as a two-game series, and then do what the NCHA does. This will ensure the same number of games for revenue purposes. The argument against this is the SUNYAC has historically tried to limit the number of teams who qualify for the postseason, and once tried to lower the number even further. Perhaps, the coaches can convince the league that if they do grow to ten teams, they should let eight into the playoffs starting now.

Another argument against changing the system is you want to make sure the best team wins the SUNYAC to represent the league on the national level. In fact, the finals were changed to a three-game series the year after Potsdam won the title in 1996 without ever winning a game. The first two games ended in a tie, and they won the mini-game. The silliness of the change is that Potsdam was a pretty darn good team that year. In fact, they had a certain player named Steve Naughton on that squad and David Dragone in net.

And if one wants to look at an example of where all these arguments fall apart, one only needs to look at how the SUNYAC runs their basketball playoffs. They final four is held at a neutral site at the Utica Auditorium. Both the men and women are combined, thus lowering ticket sale opportunities. The crowd is always on the sparse side. At one time, they also held the quarterfinals there, but they have since moved those to the campuses. When the final four used to be held on campus sites, the crowds were huge. Now, they must be losing revenue.

Also, in the past six years alone, only twice did the league champion win the playoffs. The third place team won it three times and this year the sixth place team got the automatic bid. So much for ensuring the best team represents your conference.

There are going to be a lot of discussions during the off-season amongst the coaches themselves, then amongst the athletic directors, then with the conference. I lean towards them changing the playoff system, but it won’t surprise me if it stays the same. We’ll find out in a few months.


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