This Week in Division III: Nov. 7, 2002

Is the Season Too Long?

There’s a proposal on the table (actually an amendment to an amendment of a proposal) to reduce the Division III winter sports season from 21 weeks to 19 weeks. Even though schools will be allowed flexibility in terms of when they start their seasons (allowing for variable lengths of winter breaks), this will obviously have an effect on hockey. The most likely scenario will be teams being allowed to start practice in third Monday of October, as opposed to the first Monday in October as many do now.

The NESCAC and the ECAC East have a self-imposed limit of approximately 17 weeks now, with the ECAC Northeast and MIAC currently around 18 weeks. The NCHA, the ECAC West, the SUNYAC and the MCHA take full advantage of the current 21-week rule, starting games over a month before the NESCAC and ECAC East. St. Norbert, ranked second in the latest USCHO.com Division III poll, will play seven games, over a quarter of its season, before top-ranked Norwich takes the ice in competition.

As one might expect, the proposed change is being met with mixed response. St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin would like to see things remain the same.

“I don’t like it at all,” he said. “It’s yet another example of following suit with other sports, and I think it’s a mistake. ”

You can’t treat all sports the same, according to Coghlin.

“Hockey is a seven-game series sport,” he said. “You can’t keep cutting it back. It’s a long season because it’s supposed to be a long season.

“I think it’s a mistake to go to single-elimination playoffs for the same reason.”

Coghlin, who starred for Wisconsin-Stevens Point in the late 80’s remembers a time when Division III teams played close to 30 regular-season games, and as many as 10 or 12 postseason contests.

“I’m a traditionalist,” he said. “I miss when we were able to play more games.”

The main reasons given for the proposed change are to make it easier for multi-sport athletes, and to further emphasize academics by reducing time away from the classroom.

“It’s no big deal,” said Coghlin about time away from school. “I think our players will miss one Friday this semester and one Friday next semester. That’s it.”

If anything, the change might actually increase time away from class, according to Coghlin.

“If the season gets shorter, then you’re playing three games a week, and you’re traveling on weeknights. That’s worse. The longer season means you have weekdays and some weekends off.”

In terms of the overall college experience, a longer season might be the way to go as well.

“I think it’s better for freshmen,” said Coghlin. There’s still plenty of time to acclimate to school before the season starts, and a longer season allows a slower pace to acclimate to hockey.”

Bowdoin head coach Terry Meagher, meanwhile, has no problem with the proposal. He likes his current 17-week season, which won’t have an effect on Bowdoin, a NESCAC school.

“I like it the way that it is (in the NESCAC)”, said Meagher “. Our system allows for the two- or three-sport athlete, which is important to the Division III philosophy.”

It’s also important to the athletic success of Bowdoin, which has a large number of programs for a small school.

“We have 31 varsity sports, and we’re not a big school, so we need to encourage and look for athletes that play more than one sport,” said Meagher.

The Bowdoin coach estimated that 50% of his team plays other sports.

“The captain of our team is also the captain of the football team,” said Meagher. “He plays his final (football) game this weekend.”

If the Polar Bears were already in the midst of their season, many players would have to choose between hockey and another sport, which, according to Meagher, runs counter to the purpose of Bowdoin athletics.

“It’s part of the educational process,” he said. “Our players are exposed to more than one coach, which improves their learning process — to see more than one approach.”

“We’re here for more than just winning hockey games,” Meagher said. “If it were just all about wins, it might as well be Beer League.”

Mailbag

I got several emails on my column last week, most taking me to task for saying that the idea that officiating does not affect the outcome of a game is “one of the dumbest things I have ever heard”.

In response: I’m not changing my mind. Let me try to change yours. Here are some typical examples:

Baseball – One of the most famous (infamous?) examples is Don Denkinger’s call at first base in game six of the 1985 World Series that may have cost the Cardinals the title. Hypothetically, a likely scenario is a blown call at the plate that either ends or wins a game, based on the umpire’s judgment. Or what about a close ball-strike call that gives a batter another chance, allowing him to get the game-winning hit with two outs?

Football – Well, they have instant replay for a reason. There are many. many opportunities for the outcome of a game to turn on a blown call or a judgement on pass interference, holding away from the play on a potential scoring chance, etc.

Basketball – The NBA is beginning to use instant replay, again for a reason. Also, how tightly a game is called affects the number of trips to the line teams take and how long a star player can stay in the game without fouling out.

Hockey – Power plays are so important to a team’s chances that how a game is called obviously affects the result. A finesse team with a good power play would have an advantage in a tightly-called game; a physical team could dominate a game if things are let go.

And while I’m at it, here’s another dumb thing concerning officiating — the punishment of coaches and players who dare to be critical. Two recent cases in college hockey were Dave Burkholder at Niagara and Chris Serino at Merrimack being sanctioned for giving their opinion, or, in some people’s minds, stating the obvious. Players have bad games. Coaches have bad games. The idea that officials do not, or that pointing this out somehow ruins the integrity of the game, is ridiculous.

On the other hand, officials have no forum like a press conference to respond to criticism. Their work must speak for itself, and the vast majority of the time it does, and does well.

Still, I think we’re all smart enough to know the difference between an emotional outburst like the one delivered by Maine’s Peter Metcalf after last year’s overtime loss in the NCAA Division I title game, and a reasoned assessment of a bad job. Let’s let opinions be heard without fear of repercussion.

And keep those emails coming.

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