It has been nearly a decade since Lawrence, Marian, Northland and MSOE formed the fledgling four team league known as the MCHA. Now eight strong and rising in prominence, its evolution is almost complete. This evolution, however, has led to numerous procedural maneuvers over the past year, so before even bothering with the hockey, lets figure out exactly what the league has been up to.
The most exciting news entering the 2007-08 season is the addition of two more programs to the league. Adrian College in Adrian, MI and Concordia University in Mequon, WI will begin play this season as full-fledged members of the MCHA. Both are immediately eligible for MCHA and NCAA postseason play.
The additions now give the league seven D-III teams which means a MCHA team will be going to the NCAA tournament this season, right? No. But well get to that later.
The Concordia Falcons are led by former NHL player Tony Hrkac. College hockey fans probably remember the Thunder Bay, Ontario native best as the anchor of the famous Hrkac Circus line at the University of North Dakota in the mid-eighties. The Falcons will play their home ice contests at Ozaukee Ice Arena.
The Adrian Bulldogs, meanwhile, take the ice under the leadership of Ron Fogarty. The Sarnia, Ontario native joins Adrian after four seasons as an assistant at Bowling Green. Prior to his time at BGSU, he held assistant positions and Clarkson and Colgate. The Bulldogs will welcome opponents to Arrington Ice Arena, a brand-new 1000 seat on-campus facility.
The additions of Concordia and Adrian would appear to set up the MCHA for a 14 game conference schedule in which each team plays every other twice — a schedule that would open the door for more non-conference games, something the collective MCHA is determined to play. However, despite members having defeated non-conference opponents such as Babson, St. Olaf, Lake Forest, Gustavus Adolphus and UW-Superior over the past few seasons, the MCHA is resigned to play a 20 game conference schedule for at least the next two seasons.
Its not for lack of desire that this is the case, but rather a lack of options. The only other leagues in the West Region, the NCHA and MIAC, are currently tied into an interlock schedule that will remain in place through the 2008-09 season. This effectively limits possibilities for teams from either league to schedule games against MCHA competition.
Since Finlandia joined the league in 2004-05 the MCHA has played a balanced schedule with all teams meeting four times per season. However, the addition of Concordia and Adrian makes it impossible to continue this schedule.
In response, the league has split into two four-team divisions, North and South; teams will play four games against opponents from the same division but only two against those from the other. The North Division consists of Finlandia, MN-Crookston, Northland and Lawrence; the South MSOE, Adrian, Marian and Concordia.
It should be noted the division winners will be granted the top two seeds in the conference playoffs, while the remaining six teams will be seeded by overall conference record. A little confusing perhaps, but the league has little choice until 2009-10 when it hopes to become part of a three-way interlocking schedule with the NCHA and MIAC.
Overshadowed by many of the other changes swirling around the league this off season is the new manner in which the MCHA will be hosting its conference playoffs.
In the past, the MCHA Frozen Four was held at a pre-determined site with the host team having to bid on the hosting rights. Beginning this season, however, the Frozen Four will be hosted by the team who won the previous seasons regular season title.
This gives us more time to plan the weekend out and really try to create a conference-wide event, said MCHA Commissioner Terry Brand.
Included in the weekend will be invitations to all MCHA teams, players, parents and media to participate in a banquet in which all conference awards will be presented.
It should be really nice to make it more high-profile, said Brand. This way everyone is there and the awards can be handed out all at once. It sure beats getting handed the award by your coach before practice.
As they won last years regular season MCHA championship, MSOE will host this seasons festivities at the Kern Center in Milwaukee.
The move is part of a plan to raise the visibility of the league, as allowing the previous seasons champion to host should raise the likelihood that the host team will also be playing in the event while still allowing the host institution ample preparation time.
Brand added, I really think it will work out well. This is something wholly unique to DIII hockey as far as conference tournaments go.
When the MCHA announced the addition of Concordia and Adrian, it raised hopes among many that by boasting seven Division III teams the MCHA would soon possess an automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament.
If only it were that simple.
In 1998 the NCAA enacted a moratorium preventing the creation of new auto bids for single-sport conferences, of which the MCHA is one as it is a hockey-only conference. The only exception is for conferences who have, according to the NCAA, maintained the same original seven members since February 1998.
Unfortunately, the MCHA does not fall into that category, and as such, the moratorium has hindered conferences such as the MCHA to showcase its teams on a national stage. It should be noted it is merely one of numerous conferences who are affected by this situation.
A proposal was introduced earlier in the year aimed at developing a procedure for single-sport conferences to obtain an automatic qualifier (AQ). Much to the chagrin of conferences like the MCHA, however, the proposal was not endorsed by the NCAAs Presidents Council.
The Presidents Council did not flatly reject the resolution, but chose not to endorse it as they are in the midst of an all-encompassing examination of the future of Division III which is not yet complete. The scheduled time of completion of said examination? 2011.
As stated in an October 8 NCAA news release, the Presidents Council refused to sponsor the original proposal expressing reluctance to create a new opportunity to achieve automatic qualification when a possibility exists that Division III may be restructured.
In terms of the immediate future this appeared to be a death knell for MCHA AQ hopes. However, salvation may come sooner than expected as the NCAA issued an October 8 news release stating that as a result of a Presidents Council request to consider interim solutions for dealing with single-sport conferences and automatic qualifying bids, the Championships Committee has proposed a waiver for single-sport conferences.
According to the release, the waiver would permit it to treat currently existing single-sport conferences similarly to multi-sport conferences for championships purposes.
It further adds, The proposed waiver process would permit the Championships Committee to award automatic qualification to a single-sport conference formed before September 2007 and including at least seven active members. The process would permit the committee to waive current legislation, which permits only single-sport conferences that have maintained the same original seven members since February 1998 to receive automatic qualification.
The MCHA falls under the new classification.
MCHA AQ hopes took another step forward on October 22 as the waiver proposal garnered the endorsement of the NCAA Management Council. With the endorsement of the Management Council, its on to Presidents Council. If endorsed by the Presidents Council this time around, history suggests the proposal has a strong