Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
What do we want men’s college hockey to be at the Division One level? Right now , it is a sport with some underdogs playing up every year, making everyone take notice. We don’t bat an eye when Division two schools like Bemidji State win an NCAA tournament game, AIC wins another Atlantic Hockey Championship, and Minnesota State makes the National title.
Those occurrences are so commonplace, while those schools are division two, the people in all of those athletic departments and many others have shown that they belong in Division One Hockey.
They have the support, the fans, and the funding, along with institutional backing. If any more NE10 schools besides AIC and Bentley want to dedicate themselves to the top level, this level should welcome them with open arms for a number of reasons. ( we already count soon to be former NE10 member Stonehill as a Division One independent when making this thought). Given that the schools are talking about moving up, now is a good time to take a stand on what this could mean for NCAA Division One Men’s Hockey, and our stance on welcoming the teams.
If you get four teams from the NE10 to go to the next level, you give Long Island and potentially Utica in two years a conference home. As Lindenwood and Alaska Anchorage have shown, new and returning programs this year are good homes for players looking for their chance at the top level of College Hockey. In addition, getting some or all of the NE10 Men’s teams to play in Division One over time could see those schools get more interest and funding from a wider base. All of the NE10 schools do great things on and off the field of play, and having more of their schools get noticed across all departments is great. Current NE10 member in all sports but hockey, AIC is a great example of this.
The growing alumni group has rallied to help their division one sport grow under Eric Lang’s leadership, but they have also done a great job of using hockey to promote their NE10 sports. AIC has some of the best distance runners at the Division two level, a women’s volleyball team that’s a threat to win a national title every year, a wrestling program that’s produced a national runner-up, oh and that’s all just this year. To meaningfully give up to 150 student athletes the chance to compete in a national tournament that they do not have right now, and for those schools to use their new platform in Division One to promote their other sports cannot be a bad thing. While some concerns about a talent gap will persist, given the ubiquity of the transfer portal, the number of high end NAHL and USPHL players going the D2/D3 route now, those gaps should be filled fast.
If schools show they can generate funds and interest over time, they should be afforded a chance to go play at the Division One level. Schools that wish to have their student athletes play for a Division Three Championship should be allowed that choice as well. Both levels are growing and adding programs across the country over the next few years, and the NE 10 schools have a unique opportunity to pick the level that best aligns with what they want to do. As this sport looks for new homes for its six independent teams currently playing in it, having another option also only benefits this level. For the NCAA tournament to expand over time, and to improve the student athlete experience for more players is a good goal for the NE10 schools. If they have the backing to go to the Division One Level and a clear plan for success over the long term, this sport is better off welcoming those that want to be at the top level.
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