MAAC Hockey Teams Declare Independence

The MAAC Hockey League is no more. Welcome, instead, “Atlantic Hockey.”

In the 11th hour, the nine MAAC Hockey League schools have voted to abandon the conference and form an independent new league under their own governance. The action is effective immediately.

The decision came today after a vote of the nine athletic directors. The schools were up against a Monday deadline from the MAAC, whose fiscal budget year begins July 1, to decide whether or not the powerful 25-sport conference would continue to oversee the affiliate hockey league.

“The nine members of the new Atlantic Hockey are extremely grateful for the leadership that [MAAC commissioner] Rich Ensor and the MAAC have provided us during the first five years of Division I hockey,” said Quinnipiac athletic director Jack McDonald, who spearheaded the formation of the MAAC in 1998. “We are all very excited about our new name, new governance and new commissioner.”

The new league, known as Atlantic Hockey, has already named Bob DeGregorio to serve as its commissioner. DeGregorio was the athletic director at Merrimack for 20 years, and spent four years (1993-96) as the part-time commissioner of Hockey East.

“I think that this is a great opportunity,” DeGregorio said. “I look forward to working with all of the Directors and coaches in the league. We hope to make this league one of the strongest in Division I ice hockey in the near future.”

The MAAC Hockey League was originally comprised of three core MAAC members — Canisius, Iona and Fairfield. At that time, the five remaining schools were affiliate members for hockey only. Since then, the league grew to 11 teams, with still only three core teams in place.

Iona and Fairfield each voted late last season to eliminate the respective hockey programs, leaving Canisius alone. Under the governance of the MAAC, only core member schools can vote on legislation, which caused increasing problems for the hockey schools when try to get its agenda through.

Today’s decision will enable the nine remaining schools to form their own hockey conference, similar to college hockey’s four other independent conferences — Hockey East, CCHA, CHA and WCHA.

“We wish them well,” said Ken Taylor, director of championships for the MAAC who oversaw the MAAC Hockey League in its final four seasons. “It didn’t make sense [for the nine remaining schools] with the governance structure. We could see their view.

“We couldn’t change the way we do things because we’re a 25-sport conference. We were happy to help them grow to this point and I believe they’re going to continue to be a major part of college hockey.”

Still, that doesn’t suggest that the MAAC conference itself did not attempt to save the league. The MAAC presidents voted earlier to continue its support for the hockey league, but would not alter its governance structure to the satisfaction of the hockey schools.

“We put forward a number of different options to get them to where they wanted to be,” said Taylor. “But they’ve made their decision and that’s the best option in their mind.”

The major question is whether the new conference will retain its automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. NCAA rules stipulate that a conference must be intact for two seasons, and consist of at least six full-fledged Division I schools in order to qualify for an automatic bid. The NCAA by-laws seem to indicate that, as long as the same schools compete together, it doesn’t have to necessarily be as part of the same conference. As a result, Atlantic Hockey is likely to maintain the automatic bid.

(see also: Q&A with McDonald and DeGregorio … and Analysis by Jim Connelly)