During a five-hour meeting at Yale University on Wednesday, ECAC athletic directors gave overwhelming approval to a proposal from coaches to increase the regular-season games allowance from 32 to 34 for non-Ivy League teams.
Meanwhile, a proposal that would expand the league playoffs to include all 12 member teams, has been tabled until July, pending further review.
While the green light was given to increasing the games limit, final approval must come from the ECAC Policy Committee, comprised of faculty representatives and other people outside the respective athletic departments.
— ECAC assistant commissioner Steve Hagwell
“They have oversight on this issue,” said ECAC assistant commissioner Steve Hagwell. “We will forward the recommendation to them and hopefully get them on a conference call, with representatives from among the ADs and coaches who can speak to why the change was voted on and passed.”
A simple majority is needed to pass the measure, which would bring the ECAC in line with other Division I NCAA conferences.
The limit for the league’s six Ivy League schools is 29 games, and it’s less certain whether that would change.
“The Ivies just had their meetings,” said Hagwell. “It wasn’t formally proposed to the Ivy presidents. I got the sense from some [Ivy League] administrators that the direction they are going, that expanding [the games limit] is not on the docket.”
Nonetheless, the Ivy League athletic directors did not stand in the way of approval.
“They realize that from an ECAC perspective, it’s for the good of the league and in the best interests of the league as a whole,” said Hagwell.
“I’ve heard in the past that there was a split within the league [between Ivy and non-Ivy ADs]. I don’t know about how it was before I got here, but it’s not like that. There’s 12 coaches and administrators, and not everyone goes 12-0, but it’s not like, ‘There’s six of you versus six of us.'”
Hagwell said it’s possible the Ivy League teams, which currently can schedule a scrimmage for their opening weekend, will replace it with a regular-season game, getting the limit up to 30.
For the second straight year, representatives from among the 12 league coaches were invited to attend the annual meetings. This year’s representatives were Cornell’s Mike Schafer, Yale’s Tim Taylor and Union’s Kevin Sneddon.
Coming out of their annnual convention in Naples, Fla., last month, the coaches stood unanimously behind the increase in games, and the expanded playoffs.
About the playoffs, Clarkson coach Mark Morris said at the time, “I think that having the extra team in Lake Placid looks to be a situation where, getting to that point, we can generate more revenue for the league. And hopefully, we can help our league continue to improve in terms of being very competitive on a national level.”
Athletic directors had some questions about the expansion, however. Representatives from the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) in Lake Placid, which hosts and helps organize the ECAC championship weekend, were invited to the meeting to discuss logistical issues, such as hotel availability.
“The ADs weren’t opposed, they just want to get answers,” said Hagwell. “Before they change the championship structure, which they did a couple years ago, they want to make sure everything is lined up.”
Hagwell said most of the concerns were logistical, but there was also some trepidation about the philosophy of having all 12 teams in the postseason.
“That was part of it. Is it beneficial or not to have all 12 in? There were some concerns,” he said.
Hagwell will prepare a report for the athletic directors, to be finalized after having a conference call with the league’s coaches near the end of June. He expects to get the report in the hands of the ADs by July 1, at which point the ADs will hold a conference call to make a final decision.
The 10-team playoff format has been in place since 1990. It originally consisted of a play-in game between the 7-10 seeds on a Tuesday preceding the quarterfinals, then a final four. That changed in 1998 to five quarterfinals, followed by a final five weekend.
The league also made progress on scheduling, especially as it pertains to the weekends surrounding the Beanpot tournament. In recent years, Harvard has been forced to play twice on the weekend before Beanpot games, while their Hockey East opponents played only on the preceding Fridays.
“The coaches agree that it’s important for the league to help out Harvard,” Hagwell said.
As part of the changes, the ECAC will move away from the two-year schedule rotation that saw a set schedule one year, followed by the reversed schedule the next year. Instead, schedules will be made on a one-year basis, with Harvard being allowed to play at home every year on the weekend before the Beanpot championship.
Those games will likely be played on Thursday-Friday, said Hagwell. The Friday before the first Beanpot weekend will be reserved for a game against Brown, Harvard’s usual travel partner.
These changes start in 2002-2003, coinciding to the year in which the NCAA tournament will be moved back one week. With the start of the ECAC season remaining the same, that allows for one extra week of wiggle room during the season to create a schedule.
Finally, the athletic directors discussed a recommendation by coaches that would alter the structure of the league’s chain of command. Currently, Phil Buttafuoco is the commissioner of the entire ECAC — which includes many sports at many levels — and Hagwell is the assistant commissioner, in charge of hockey administration. Many coaches would like to see Hagwell have more authority to make final hockey decisions.
“We talked about structure, and how it impacts my position,” Hagwell said, “but I had to excuse myself from the room during those discussions, so I can’t really say what happened.”