It’s hard to believe, but it’s less than 50 days until they drop the puck on the 1999-2000 college hockey season. As outlined in Brave New World, Division III hockey will undergo a major overhaul in terms of automatic qualifiers for the NCAA tournament.
ECAC Commissioner Jeff Fanter added a few pieces to the puzzle in a recent interview. The major new chunk of news is that the NESCAC has been granted an automatic qualifier for this coming season.
“They didn’t meet the deadline the first time, but recently went before the board and got approval for an automatic bid,” said Fanter. “It’s uncertain at this time how they will select the team. It could be a playoff separate from the rest of the ECAC East or they could use some other method. This, along with the Division II playoff we will have this coming season, allows for an ECAC East automatic qualifier.”
Even though the conference will split in the postseason to crown separate champions, Fanter made it clear that the ECAC East will be around for the foreseeable future. “The NESCAC and the non-NESCAC schools still like the scheduling arrangement and want that to continue,” he said.
Don’t expect to see any major realignment for any of the ECAC D-III conferences for the time being. Fanter knows that the opportunity exists now more than ever, thanks to the ECAC Northeast being granted an automatic qualifier, for a geographical realignment. But there’s more to consider than just the proximity of schools.
“The conferences exist as they do for many reasons, including philosophical ones,” said Fanter. “It’s why Penn State went to the Big 10. They felt they had more in common with those schools than they did with those in the Big East. The same can be said for why Skidmore decided to join the ECAC East instead of the ECAC West. It’s nothing against the Big East or the ECAC West. It’s just that certain schools have things in common.
“One thing I want to make very clear is that the ECAC has no jurisdiction to place teams in conferences. That’s up to the conference members themselves. If a team wanted to move from one conference to another, they would have to make a proposal to the members and then be voted in.”
While the D-III men’s conferences will keep the status quo for the time being, Fanter says he expects the women’s league to undergo a major overhaul in the next few years.
“The women are still sorting things out,” he said. “We still have the cases of Division I schools having teams in Division III conferences, but we expect some change in a few seasons. We could have as many as four ECAC women’s leagues in a few years. The growth there is just explosive.”
Fanter couldn’t hide his optimism for the coming season for the ECAC. “Its going to be exciting,” he said. “We’ve unveiled a new logo and will soon launch a clothing line. Plus, the website will continue to grow and add new features. For example, there will be no more printed media guides. Everything will be available online.”
To summarize the changes in Division III, we now can expect the following:
That puts enormous pressure on most teams to win the conference championship. The new system will make the regular season more important because of the pressure to get the highest possible seed and the home ice advantage.
It will make the conference playoffs more crucial than ever, since only one runner-up will still get a trip to the NCAA postseason tournament.
It will make for some great Cinderella stories.
What this new system will not do, however, is reward the best eight teams in Division III with an NCAA bid.
Let’s drop the puck and see what happens.