MAAC Teams Await Fate

The MAAC Hockey League remains in limbo following a meeting of the members’ athletic directors last weekend. That meeting came amid the annual athletic director convention in Florida.

Members of the MAAC Hockey League, which consists of just one all-sport MAAC member — Canisius — were set to vote on whether to leave the jurisdiction of the MAAC and form an independent conference.

According to sources, the athletic directors did not reach a definite conclusion at the recent meeting, and will meet again this week.

If the nine remaining MAAC teams eventually vote in favor of independence, they would look to organize their own Division I hockey conference.

Formed five years ago, the original eight-team MAAC conference was composed of three full-time MAAC member institutions and five non-MAAC schools. Over time, the league grew to 11 teams still with only the three member clubs — Fairfield, Canisius and Iona.

This past season, though, both Fairfield and Iona announced the elimination of their hockey programs, leaving Canisius the sole MAAC school in the now nine-team conference.

Because of the defections, the remaining MAAC Hockey League members are further impacted by the league’s governance structure. All major league legislation has always been voted on solely by the presidents of the all-sport MAAC member schools — meaning that non-members had no final say on legislation. This set up a quasi “lobbying” network of non-members attempting to sway the vote of the three member schools, something that, according to sources, was never well-embraced but always tolerated.

Sources noted that with Canisius the only remaining all-sport-MAAC program, the other eight non-MAAC members felt strongly that the current governance structure would be unfair and unwise. With that in mind, the eight non-MAAC members approached the league over recent weeks with a proposal to change the governance structure that would, in essence, give legislative powers to each of the nine hockey schools. That proposal, though, was rejected by the league.

“I think [the current hockey membership] doesn’t like the concept of keeping the current governance system,” said MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor. “From the MAAC perspective, we can’t really deviate from our by-laws when anything is being run with the MAAC name on it.”

With the annual Athletic Director’s convention set for this week, the MAAC Hockey League ADs will meet Friday, June 13 to take a vote on the future of the conference. If the vote is to disband the league, the nine hockey-playing schools will seek assistance to form their own conference — an independent conference similar to Hockey East, the WCHA, CCHA and CHA.

Ensor said there will be three options for the hockey-school ADs to decide upon:

1) Keep things as is;

2) Have the nine hockey schools continue to play together, with the MAAC overseeing the league on a fee basis; or

3) Go out and form a league of their own.

Ensor also noted that the MAAC would allow the hockey conference a transition year through the upcoming season if that in fact is necessary.

Sources say, and Ensor agrees, that the most likely resolution is for the nine schools to form their own conference. That, according to sources, creates three separate scenarios of how to proceed:

1) Look to Hockey East to provide the league a governance structure and resources. This would be similar to College Hockey America, which was originally run by the WCHA and its administrative structure.

2) The nine teams to run the league itself, at least temporarily, electing one of the nine athletic directors to lead the league and hiring support staff to provide administrative assistance.

3) The third and likely least-attractive option would be to seek another Division I conference, such as the Patriot League or the Northeast Conference, to operate the league. This option is almost identical to the current arrangement with the MAAC and would likely be looked at as a last-ditch effort.

The thought of Hockey East assuming responsibility for the governance of this independent conference is “intriguing” according to Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna.

“Over the years at different times we’ve discussed as a league what expansion means,” Bertagna said. “Traditional expansion means adding a school, but the other option is whether or not we would oversee another entity. That, though, has never been taken to a vote [within Hockey East] so it’s all very premature.”

Bertagna notes that one of the challenges that his league would face assuming responsibility for this conference is actual resources. The Hockey East office currently employs just two full-time employees and would need to be able to add and support additional staff to run such a conference.

Another glitch that could enter into this and any other plan to form an independent conference comes from the NCAA. The MAAC Hockey League has had an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament for the past three seasons. If the league disbanded and its members formed their own conference, whether or not the new conference could keep the MAAC’s automatic qualifier under NCAA guidelines is still to be understood.

“[Quinnipiac AD] Jack McDonald has been looking into [the automatic qualifier],” said Ensor. “He’s told me that as long as they keep the continuity of membership things should be okay.”

The applicable bylaw in the NCAA manual appears to be, which states:

To be considered eligible for automatic qualification in a particular sport, a member conference must include six core institutions that satisfy continuity of membership … core refers to an institution that has been an active member of Division I the eight preceding years. Further, the continuity-of-membership requirement shall be met only if a minimum of six core institutions have conducted conference competition together in Division I the preceding two years in the applicable sport.

Ensor stressed that this is a situation without animosity, and that if the MAAC were to eliminate hockey that it would come as a matter of circumstance and without any other agenda. He also said that this is anywhere for a done deal and that Canisius’ input will be critical.

“The [MAAC] presidents met and there are different opinions throughout,” said Ensor. “But the general consensus is that if Canisius wants [the MAAC] to run the league as it is, we would do just that.”