The NCAA this week has granted final approval of the CHA’s eligibility for an automatic qualifier to the Division I men’s tournament.
The news, originally reported by USCHO in August, all but assures the CHA will receive the sixth automatic qualifier, though the final vote must come from the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee at its annual July meetings. Assuming it is approved, and assuming the CHA maintains its current six-team membership, the conference will get an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament in 2003.
As reported in August, the key sticking point was whether the CHA was technically a full-fledged NCAA conference for a long enough period of time. Beacuse of Army’s departure from the league, Findlay’s questionable status, and the oft-rumored departure of Niagara, the issue was in doubt. But the Management Council of the NCAA ruled in August that the league did meet the by-laws retroactive to 1999, and with Findlay’s status confirmed, the NCAA gave the final recognition this week.
“The membership of College Hockey America is extremely pleased to receive confirmation from the NCAA for conference membership retroactive to September, 1999,” said Bob Peters, CHA commissioner. “The growth and development of collegiate hockey over the past decade is unprecedented, and College Hockey America is an example of the ever expanding interest and participation in hockey at all levels.
“Indeed, the CHA is grateful for the support and encouragement from the Division I hockey constituency. We are particularly thankful to commissioner Bruce McLeod and the WCHA for providing direction and leadership since our inception in 1999.”
Jack McDonald, chair of the men’s ice hockey committee, said he expects no trouble for the CHA in getting the automatic bid.
“Personally, I strongly endorse their AQ,” McDonald said. McDonald is also athletic director at Quinnipiac, a member of the MAAC, which just received its AQ last year.
“Based on all they’ve been through with membership — Army, Findlay, Niagara threatening to leave — they’ve been through a lot as an emerging league,” McDonald said. “They are probably are pretty pumped [by the news of becoming eligible], and deserve to be. They’ve been through more than the MAAC.
“The PWR/RPI [ratings numbers] proves they are better than MAAC. So, this is a formality. These schools have all been around a lot longer [than MAAC schools]. Where the real conversation comes in is, how do the other leagues feel about this? This is another at-large spot taken away by an emerging program.”
In August, when it was deemed the CHA met the eligibility requirements dating back to September, 1999, the key sticking point remained Niagara’s potential departure for the MAAC. However, the August decision by the management council seemed to quiet Niagara’s possible desire to leave. Niagara is a MAAC school in other sports, but for hockey, it gives 18 scholarships while the MAAC hockey schools are capped at 11.
College Hockey America, formed on June 15, 1999 with members Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville, Army (now in the MAAC), Bemidji State, Findlay, Niagara and Wayne State, is now in its third season.
Niagara earned the inaugural CHA regular season and tournament titles, while the Alabama-Huntsville won the 2000-01 CHA regular season championship and Wayne State captured the 2001 CHA Tournament crown.