The WCHA and CHA will get a reprieve, assuming new NCAA legislation gets approved, as recommended.
Risking the WCHA and CHA losing their automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, the NCAA’s Championships and Competition Cabinet voted unanimously, 43-0, to recommend those conferences, and others like it in other sports, be “grandfathered” in.
Assuming the NCAA’s Management Council passes the recommendation at its April meeting, the WCHA and CHA will continue to receive an automatic bid. With fast-track approval status, the recommendation is expected to pass.
“It’s a high priority agenda item,” said Jack McDonald, athletic director at Quinnipiac and a member of the Championships and Competition Cabinet.
At issue was NCAA legislation passed in 2000, meant to discourage the creation of new one-sport-only conferences, and discourage the arbitrary splitting of one conference into two in order to enjoy two automatic bids.
The new legislation — which takes effect on Sept. 1, 2003 — says that a conference needs to have six “core” members (schools that are Division I in all sports) for a period of at least eight years in order to be eligible for an automatic bid. Neither the CHA or WCHA meets that requirement.
Apparently, no one, at the time the legislation was passed, noticed the implications it would have on the two hockey conferences. It was not until the MAAC approached the NCAA to ask about the ramifications of its potential plan to split into two conferences, did the realization occur of what it meant for the WCHA and CHA.
“They [NCAA executives] said, ‘We didn’t even think about it at the time,'” McDonald said.
Since situations such as the WCHA and CHA were not the intended target of the legislation, everyone was willing to quickly remedy the situation.
“If nothing was done yesterday, the letter of the law was, these schools would lose their AQs,” McDonald said. “It was serious enough where the interpretation shows, if we did nothing, it would have been a problem.”
Colgate AD Mark Murphy, and Cornell AD Andy Noel represent other hockey-playing schools on the Cabinet. Also, the Cabinet’s NCAA liaison, Tom Jacobs, is also liaison for the Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee.
As for the original question which brought this issue to light: The MAAC may still one day split into two conferences, though it will be more difficult to do so.
With Fairfield eliminating its program, that will leave seven full-fledged D-I schools in the MAAC. In order to split in half and have both new conferences get an automatic bid, the MAAC would need five more Division I schools.
“The thought of cutting it in half is an attempt to grow hockey,” said McDonald. “Navy, Robert Morris and Rhode Island all are thinking seriously about the MAAC. We have six leagues now with 16 [tournament] spots, so there’s probably room for a couple more automatics. [Hockey has] a lot of leagues with 10-12 members.
Meanwhile, McDonald said that women’s hockey is also directly affected by the new NCAA legislation.
“There’s a need and room for a new women’s league, but that needs to meet the new standards,” he said.
In related news, the Championships and Competition Cabinet has approved the idea of making a formal request to the Division I Women’s Ice Hockey Committee, asking them to submit a proposal to expand the NCAA women’s tournament from four to eight teams.