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DIII considers moving men’s ice hockey final to DI weekend

By Gary Brown

The Division III Championships Committee is considering conducting the Division III men’s ice hockey championship game on the same weekend as the Men’s Frozen Four in 2014. However, committee members want to see a date formula that doesn’t extend the current playing season before they fully endorse the proposal.

Meeting Tuesday in Indianapolis, the Championships Committee reviewed a proposal from the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee to play the Division III championship game on the off day between the Division I semifinals and final in 2014 – and perhaps in future years if the joint championship is as successful as advocates hope.

Championships Committee members agreed that a combined approach could enhance the student-athlete experience, increase the viewing audience for both divisions and create more awareness for the sport, but they are concerned about the proposal’s effect on length of season, an important tenet within the Division III philosophy.

Using the current date formula, the 2014 championship would be conducted as follows:

  • Selections on Sunday, March 9
  • Three first-round games at campus sites on Wednesday, March 12
  • Quarterfinals at campus sites on Saturday, March 15
  • Semifinals and final on Friday and Saturday, March 21 and 22, at a predetermined site

 

The proposed formula, in order to accommodate the combined championship, would be:

  • Selections on Monday, March 10
  • First-round games at campus sites on Saturday, March 15
  • Quarterfinals at campus sites on Saturday, March 22
  • Semifinals at campus sites on Saturday, March 29
  • Championship game at the Men’s Frozen Four site on Friday, April 11

 

The proposal moves the first-round games from Wednesday, thereby decreasing missed class time and giving all teams more time to make arrangements for games on Saturday. But it also extends the tournament from two full weeks to five, though only four teams are affected (the two non-advancing semifinalists by one week and the two championship teams by three).

Extending the season is what concerns the Championships Committee. Members are asking the ice hockey committee to consider an adjustment that would align more with the current season length. That might mean getting buy-in from the ice hockey community to move the season start date back from its current Oct. 15. There’s already a legislative proposal for the upcoming Convention that moves the first contest date from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1 beginning in 2014, but that wouldn’t affect the start of practice.

“The Championships Committee understands the potential benefits with this proposal and likely will support it as long as it doesn’t negatively affect the length of the season,” said committee chair Stuart Robinson, the athletics director at SUNY New Paltz. “The more the date formula can be adjusted to mitigate the delay at the end of the tournament, the more the proposal would align with Division III principles.”

The Championships Committee has asked for a revised date formula from the ice hockey committee by November. Members also want a more detailed financial analysis (the effect on per diem and travel, for example). The Division I Championships/Sport Management Cabinet approved the combined championship concept at its meeting on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

The joint championship was proposed for the 2014 championship with a more permanent change to the date formula, but the Division III Championships Committee is suggesting a one-year pilot before making a longer-term commitment.

The situation is similar to one in men’s basketball that surfaced because of the 75th celebration of March Madness this spring in Atlanta. Because the Division III championship will be held the weekend of the Final Four, the tournament was extended by two weeks to accommodate the two championship teams playing in Atlanta rather than in Salem, Va., at the customary time. The difference, though, is that the basketball situation is a one-time occurrence, whereas the ice hockey model could become permanent.

Bruce Delventhal, who chaired the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee when the recommendation was made, said the group has discussed the idea for several years as a way to enhance the student-athlete experience and help grow the sport. But he said the date formula has always presented a challenge.

“We think it will be a good experience for the kids who make the final,” said Delventhal, the director of athletics at Plattsburgh State whose term on the panel expired Sept. 1. “It can create a better awareness of Division III men’s college hockey. We thought that those were two of the most important factors.”

Delventhal also said the committee is aware of concerns about the Division III championship being overshadowed by the Division I championship in a combined format – concerns that also surfaced in the basketball discussions. But he said the committee believes the joint championship will enhance the experience for the two Division III teams and give Division III a high-profile platform to promote its identity.

Greg Johnson contributed to this article.