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Opinion: It’s time for the NCAA to abandon out of date policy and allow Hawk hockey to move to Division III

Hawk+men%27s+ice+hockey+facing+off+against+Salem+State.
Hawk men's ice hockey facing off against Salem State.

Hawk men's ice hockey facing off against Salem State.

Crier\Cody Jones

Crier\Cody Jones

Hawk men's ice hockey facing off against Salem State.

Cody Jones, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

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The three Saint Anselm athletic programs with the highest winning percentage over the last decade are men’s basketball, men’s ice hockey and women’s ice hockey.

During that time Hawk men’s basketball compiled a 188-102 record, having competed in the NCAA Division II playoffs six times, and even making it to the East Regional Finals twice. Over that same period, Hawk men’s ice hockey posted a 125-113-27 record and Hawk women’s ice hockey produced an impressive 198-55-15 record. The difference is that both the men’s and women’s ice hockey programs don’t have any national playoff appearances to show for their success because of an NCAA technicality.

This has been a reality for the Saint Anselm men’s ice hockey program since 1999 (the last year there was a DII playoff) and it has always been the case for the women’s ice hockey program since their inception in 2004.

The NCAA stopped sponsoring a Division II ice hockey championship because there are so few Division II programs. There are only six Division II men’s ice hockey teams, and they are all affiliated with the Northeast-10 Conference. On the other hand Hawk women’s ice hockey is not a recognized member of the NE10, and there are in fact no women’s ice hockey programs affiliated with a Division II conference.

Until now, the Saint Anselm ice hockey programs have been able to maintain a fairly competitive regular season schedule thanks to an agreement with the New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) that allowed both teams to face a number of successful Division III programs. Despite this agreement, neither team has been eligible to compete for a Division III national championship because the NCAA has policies in place that do not allow Division I or II programs to play down for a national championship.

See NCAA Policy: Divisional Differences and the History of Multidivision Classification

 

As The Crier reported before the start of the 2016-17 season, the NEHC did not renew its scheduling agreement with Saint Anselm or any other schools from outside Division III effective June 30, 2017.

See Crier Article: Conference changes lead to uncertain future for Hawk hockey

 

Student-athletes, parents, alumni and fans of Hawk hockey have been upset about the lack of opportunity to compete for a national championship for a long time, and their frustration has finally seemed to boil over.

Earlier this week, a group of Saint Anselm hockey alumni started a Change.org petition tilted “Save the Saint Anselm College Ice Hockey Program and remove the inequity in Saint Anselm College Athletics.” The petition is addressed to Dr. Steven DiSalvo, president of Saint Anselm College, Daron Montgomery, director of Athletics, along with a number of other high-ranking college officials.

It calls for “a full evaluation of the Saint Anselm College athletic program because it fails to promote a fair athletic environment for all of its student athletes.”

The termination of the NEHC agreement is partially what fueled support for the Change.org petition, which now has over 500 signatures.

Supporters of both Hawk hockey programs believe that without an affiliation to a competitive conference, such as the NEHC, the level of competition and the quality of both teams will diminish over time.

All of the stakeholders are right to be concerned about this situation. No longer having an affiliation with the NEHC will impact both teams, and the women will feel its effects more so than the men.

Hawk women’s ice hockey, who are coming off an NEHC Open Championship season, have played a predominantly NEHC schedule with a few out of conference invites here and there. Without the guaranteed NEHC opponents, women’s ice hockey will need to resort to inviting other schools independently to play during the 2017-18 season.

Saint Anselm Athletics released a tentative scheduling alliance for next season this past January, however it only featured five opponents. As it stands now, they would have a 20 game schedule in which they will play Sacred Heart, Franklin Pierce, Post, St. Michael’s and Holy Cross four times each. While it is important to note that this schedule is not finalized, and it is certainly possible that more women’s ice hockey programs could agree to play Saint Anselm, there is no denying that the 2017-18 schedule will be a shadow of past years which featured nationally ranked teams such as UMass Boston, Norwich, and Connecticut College.

Men’s ice hockey seems to be in a better position than the women’s program next year. They are tentatively scheduled still to play the other five NE10 teams with the addition of schools such as Babson (an NEHC team which has independently agreed to play the Hawks), Salem State, and Plymouth State among others.

Regardless of these new arrangements, the Saint Anselm hockey programs remain ineligible to compete for a national championship. This is a problem that doesn’t appear as if it will be resolved any time soon. The fact of the matter is that there just is not an easy fix, and while people could point the finger at the college’s administration for not coming up with a solution, it is ultimately NCAA policy that is keeping the hockey programs from competing for a national title.

The college did recently conduct an “exploratory phase of membership” in Division III during the 2015-16 academic cycle. It was reported that Saint Anselm had been seeking full membership of all athletic programs within the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) however the application was denied in April of 2016. Since then there have been no reports of Saint Anselm applying to another Division III conference. College officials, however, have told The Crier, as reported in past articles, that the college is continuing to explore all options.

See Crier Article: Saint Anselm Athletics staying put for now; will continue to explore Division III options

Related: Athletics pushes for stability with current and future student-athletes

 

It is also worth noting that in the winter of 2015, Jim Herlihy, former Saint Anselm director of Athletics, put in a request to the NCAA to allow the six NE10 men’s hockey programs to compete for a Division III title. The college’s request was later denied.

See Crier Sports Briefs: NCAA denies request for hockey to play for D3 title

 

While Saint Anselm is not currently eligible to play down to Division III to compete for a title, according to NCAA policy, the Hawks could conceivably play up to Division I. Some primarily Division II institutions, like Merrimack, have chosen to play up to Division I ice hockey. This, however, would require the college to put a lot of money into recruiting top notch Division I scholarship athletes, and would result in both programs needing to be completely rebuilt in order to compete against other Division I teams. For that reason, among others, it is unlikely that any Saint Anselm athletic teams would become Division I programs.

The NCAA needs to give itself a reality check and realize that Division II ice hockey does not exist anymore. In my opinion, they have yet to provide a legitimate reason not to allow the Division II hockey programs the opportunity to become full members of a Division III conference that qualifies for a national championship.

The policy restricting teams from playing down an NCAA division makes perfect sense for sports that are sponsored within the division with which that team is affiliated. Division I and II programs generally have a number of students receiving athletic scholarships while Division III programs do not award any athletic scholarships. In order to maintain a level playing field, Division III schools do not want to compete against Division I or II student-athletes.

The fact of the matter is that because there is not a Division II ice hockey playoff, Saint Anselm’s ice hockey programs are already built and recruited the same way Division III schools are.

With all this in mind, why doesn’t the NCAA allow Saint Anselm and other established Division II ice hockey programs to join Division III? The purpose of the NCAA ought to be to promote the athletic experience of college and university students in a just and effective fashion. It sounds to me that the NCAA is blindly following a policy due to a distinction without a difference.

 

Cody Jones served as sports editor for four semesters before being named editor-in-chief of The Crier for the 2016-2017 academic year. He expects to receive his B.A. degree in communication later this month.

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Opinion: It’s time for the NCAA to abandon out of date policy and allow Hawk hockey to move to Division III