When Robert Morris University chose to cut their men’s and women’s hockey programs, Bob DeGregorio, Commissioner of the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) that the men’s team played in and Collegiate Hockey America (CHA) that the women’s team played in, found out mere minutes before the general public did.
“We were caught off guard. We had no idea this was happening. I was called five minutes before the announcement was made and told it was happening. I was astonished. I couldn’t believe the lack of foresight for something like this,” he said.
Beyond leaving players and recruits scrambling for somewhere else to play and that staff without jobs, the move had farther-reaching implications. Losing Robert Morris left the CHA with just five member institutions – one below the NCAA requirement for a conference to receive an auto-bid to the post-season tournament. The conference is given a two-year grace period to operate below the minimum, but by the 2023-24 season, the CHA has to have added a sixth team or they will lose their league’s auto-qualifier spot.
DeGregorio, who is also Commissioner of the New England Women’s Hockey Association (NEWHA), might be one of the busiest men in college hockey. Even with everything else going on, finding a team to play in the CHA by that deadline is a priority. He is not thinking about possible longer-term solutions. This is a problem that has to have a solution in time for the 23-24 season. There is no other option.
To that end, DeGregorio has already identified some targets for schools to join the CHA.
“Without disclosing who they are, we are talking to a couple of institutions about elevating their program to Division I and moving into our league and then another one that is (already) Division I,” he said.
“I want to get us to six teams. With the support of my directors, the support of our coaches, we will get one of those teams playing with us by Fall 2023.”
At this point, the CHA is not counting on the return of Robert Morris. There are too many unanswered questions and DeGregorio says he’s unsure that the current approach to bringing back the programs, through sponsorship, is sustainable.
Beyond that, the women’s team does not currently have a coach. Paul Colontino left to be an administrator and coach at Bishop Kearney Selects.
“They haven’t conducted a search for a head coach of the women’s program. Where is the commitment? If you’re going to bring it back, you need that,” said DeGregorio.
“Somebody should be out there recruiting. If you’re going to have a women’s team in the fall of 2022, who’s recruiting? You need someone to be finding players that can come in and help that program compete again.”
There are more questions than answers surrounding the future of Robert Morris Hockey and it would be difficult as a prospective student-athlete to commit to playing there when they can’t be reassured that there will definitely be a program that will definitely have affiliation with a league, DeGregorio said. Until staff can offer reassurance that the players won’t suffer the same fate as last year’s teams, it’s going to be a difficult to sell to get people to commit to play at RMU.
DeGregorio’s comments will surely start people speculating about which schools the CHA is targeting to become their sixth member. He did not differentiate whether the schools they’re talking about elevating are Division III or Club level. The CHA itself is populated with teams that elevated their programs.
Lindenwood, RIT and Penn State all elevated programs that played at the club level in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (AHCA).
DeGregorio believes that the NCAA Championship Oversight Committee will approve a plan for the extended DI women’s hockey tournament at their next meeting and feels sure that expansion to 11 teams will occur this season.
“It’s not what everybody wanted, but 11 is better than 8. I’m very happy they expanded the bracket to create opportunities,” he said. “Take it and run with it. It’s better than eight. Let’s live with it. The most important thing is we continue to move forward, show progress, add programs, increase visibility and create exposure.”
But women’s expansion isn’t the only change he’s hoping to see from the NCAA. He is very passionate about the need to change the structure of how voting and decision-making are handled at NCAA Conventions.
Currently, he said, no NCAA member institution that does not sponsor football cannot vote on legislation about football.
But no other sport gets that consideration. That means, DeGregorio said, that although there are only 61 institutions that sponsor men’s hockey and 40 that sponsor women’s hockey, all 391 NCAA member institutions are able to vote on hockey legislation.
His suggested solution is a more federated approach – where the individual sports hold some autonomy over themselves in terms of voting for the rules and regulations that govern them.
“They need to federate by sport so that hockey people make decisions on hockey. That should be for all sports. It should be maintained and run by those administrators that are involved, that care, that have a passion for that sport. The process could be better if it was more federated. People who know the games are not going to do stupid things to administrate them,” he said.