One “Yes”, One “No” Add Up to Good News for D-III Hockey
On January 13, The NCAA voted on two proposals which could have a profound effect on Division III hockey. It was good news all around for most fans.
Proposition 41, which was discussed in a previous column, would have reduced the length of Division III winter sports, including hockey, from 21 weeks to 19 weeks. It was defeated, 196-166-6. The main reason given by schools that voted against the proposal was that programs have the ability to self-limit themselves in terms of season length and number of games. The ECAC East and NESCAC currently do this.
The other major proposal, Proposition 42, attempts to fix problems with the NCAA selection process that have existed since the last major modification four years ago. It called for two major changes:
• Lower the ratio of tournament slots to total number of eligible institutions, from 1.7 to 1.65. In the case of hockey, which currently has 68 eligible programs, this would expand the field from nine to 10 teams.
• Allow Pool B programs to also be eligible for a Pool C bid, which would be welcomed by teams from the ECAC West and MCHA. The current process restricts teams from non-qualifying conferences (those with no automatic bid) and independents to Pool B only, which in hockey consists of a single slot (one for every 6.5 teams in Pool B, rounded down).
Proposition 42 passed by an overwhelming margin (306-59-3) but does not take effect until the 2005-2006 season. If no new teams are added, and no conferences are re-organized, this means that there will be 10 teams going to the NCAAs: The six automatic qualifiers (champions from the ECAC East, ECAC Northeast, MIAC, NCHA, NESCAC and SUNYAC), one team guaranteed from Pool B (ECAC West, MCHA, Scranton), and three at-large bids, available to all teams.
Another similar plan, Proposition 43, would have guaranteed that 50 percent of the bids go to at-large teams. This would have been even better for hockey, allowing for a 12-team field with five Pool C bids, but since what it did was not substantially different from Proposition 42 for most Division III sports, it was tabled in favor of Proposition 42.
We’ll have to wait for two and half more seasons to see this change, but it’s the right thing to do since it expands the field as well as affording all teams an equal second chance to making the tournament.
While the second proposal is certainly more interesting from a hockey standpoint, the first one, defeated by such a narrow margin, is additional evidence of a growing schism in Division III between schools with a “Division I” attitude (aggressive recruiting, off-season practices, etc.) and those who want to reduce the competitiveness of Division III athletics (mandatory recruiting “dead periods”, shorter seasons) . There is serious talk of subdivision, which could result in either a Division III-A or a Division IV.
Middlebury is where it usually is at this time of the season — near the top of the NESCAC standings and the USCHO.com Division III poll. The difference for the Panthers this season is that they are without 16-year head coach Bill Beaney, who is taking a year off from coaching. Beaney is on campus, teaching a winter session course and working on the school’s endowment fund, but is away most weekends watching son Trevor play his senior season at Princeton.
Behind the bench is four-year assistant coach, and now interim head coach, Neil Sinclair.
Sinclair says he feels comfortable in his new role.
“Bill is a great person to work with, and has always let the assistants get involved in things, so I felt prepared for the transition,” he said.
The Panthers got off to a 3-3 start, but have won seven games in a row and are currently tied for second place in the NESCAC standings, a point behind Trinity.
“The challenge this year has been getting a young team ready,” said Sinclair. “We have a small senior class, unlike last year, and some players have been asked to step into different roles than they’ve had in the past.”
The Panthers had gotten off to relatively slow starts in the past, so Sinclair and his team weren’t fazed by, for example, a last place showing in the Prime Link Tournament.
“We weren’t paying that much attention to wins and losses, just trying to get everybody involved and playing better,” said Sinclair.
“We’re still not paying that much attention to wins and losses, just trying to get better.”
Others are taking notice of those wins, however, as the Panthers jumped from 11th to sixth in the most recent USCHO.com Division III poll. The latest victims were Bowdoin and Colby, which both lost to the Panthers on home ice last weekend.
“I was really proud of the way the kids competed against two really good teams on what is always a tough trip,” said Sinclair.
Challenges lie ahead in what may be the most competitive NESCAC race in years.
“I think the league is very well balanced from top to bottom,” said Sinclair. “The [USCHO.com] poll shows that with Bowdoin, Colby, Trinity and Hamilton all being ranked.
“At this point, I think Trinity has to be label as the favorites. They have almost everybody back from last season and their offense is explosive.”
That may be true, but the Bantams will have to get past the three-time defending NESCAC champs first. That matchup comes on February 24.
Under the Radar
One team that had a near miss with Middlebury this season is the Hobart Statesmen. On Jan. 4, Hobart lost to the Panthers 3-2, surrendering the winning goal with just 45 seconds to play.
“It was a good showing from a program standpoint,” said head coach Mark Taylor. “The guys weren’t happy with a loss, and that’s good. They wanted to win.
“But one of the reasons why I have Middlebury on the schedule is to go there and remind the guys that when I was an assistant there, we had more losses than wins, and look what they were able to accomplish.
“It want our players to see that this is the way you can do it; to turn a program into a winning tradition.”
The turnaround seems to be underway, with the Statesmen sporting an 11-6-1 record, their best at this point in 10 years. Hobart has beaten SUNYAC leader Fredonia three times this season. Still, the talk in the ECAC West seems to be all about Elmira, Manhattanville and RIT.
“I hope they look past us,” joked Taylor. “I think we’re being taken seriously. The third win over Fredonia was really big, since not many people thought we could do it.”
Being taken seriously is due to a couple of factors, according to Taylor.
“We have more depth, and [goaltender] Adam Lavelle is such a workhorse for us. We’ll always be in games with him, but at the same time, there’s been many games where it’s been a team win, and he’ll be the first to tell you that.”
Hobart hosts Brockport this Saturday before concluding with six conference games, two each with Elmira, RIT and Utica.
Last and least, I know this is practically un-American, but I’m not a football fan. I find the game dull and tedious. It’s not that I’m addicted to the fast action of hockey and can’t stand sports played at a lesser pace, since I am also a big baseball fan, at least of the sport itself as opposed to MLB.
Anyway, there’s way too many reasons why I don’t like football to go into here, so I’ll stick to just one — the arbitrary nature of the game. I mean, it’s practically random. The game is structured so that way too many variables come into play besides what the players themselves are actually doing — constantly changing rules and procedures, inconsistent officiating, instant replay, reviewable versus non-reviewable plays, coin tosses, etc. Freaking coin tosses in overtime! Are you kidding me? I’ve made up games in my backyard that had more integrity than that.
Of course, I guess that’s what makes the game so addictive to some people — the large affect that chance has on the outcome. Your team can go 3-13 one season and be a Super Bowl contender the next (or the other way around, Bears fans). Football is obviously THE sport for gamblers, which I think accounts for most of its popularity — there’s a lot of people out there with money riding on the outcome of football games. And you don’t have to know much about football to be involved — the investment is small, at least in terms of what you have to understand. My wife has played squares in Super Bowl Pools without even knowing who the teams were that were playing. There’s a 10-year old kid on my son’s hockey team that won the fantasy league run by a guy in his dad’s office.
It’s Sport Populi, but count me out. I’ll probably watch on Sunday — the commercials are pretty good. But I won’t make it past the third quarter.