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By Gary Brown
The Division III Presidents Council at its meeting on Tuesday defeated a proposal to conduct the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Championship game in conjunction with the Men’s Frozen Four in 2014.
The proposal to use the combined approach on a one-year trial basis came from the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee and received support from the Championships Committee and Management Council, though it generated debate all along the way and got through the Council by just one vote.
The sticking points were the proposal’s effect on season length and whether the model fit the Division III philosophy. Those same issues troubled the Presidents Council, too.
Discussion at the Presidents Council meeting centered on the combined championship approach in general. While presidents cited season length as a specific concern, they also weren’t ready to commit more broadly to a model that hadn’t been vetted from a philosophical perspective.
Timing was a factor as well. The combined approach was fresh in the presidents’ minds after they debated earlier this year whether to include the Division III Men’s Basketball Championship game as part of the Men’s Final Four in April 2013.
Their decision to do so in that case was in part persuaded by knowing it was a one-year event – the 75th anniversary celebration of NCAA men’s basketball championships.
“There’s only one chance to celebrate a 75th anniversary,” said Presidents Council chair Jim Schmotter of Western Connecticut State. “But while the hockey proposal was couched as a one-year trial, there was a sense that the intended outcome was for a multiple-year or even permanent commitment down the road. Our members weren’t ready to sign that contract.”
The issue could still re-emerge. The Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee will evaluate the Presidents Council’s concerns (as well as feedback from the Management Council) and could present a revised concept for 2015 or a subsequent championship. Division I has not named sites for the Men’s Frozen Four beyond 2014.
“All of the Presidents Council members were concerned about how this idea meshed with our philosophy, especially given the effect on the playing and practice season, and the length of the championship itself,” Schmotter said. “Some also had logistical and practical concerns about conferences that already had begun scheduling contests for the 2013-14 season. Even if the Presidents Council had referred the matter back to the ice hockey committee for a revised proposal, that probably couldn’t have been done in time to accommodate 2014.”
The ice hockey committee’s proposal as currently written would extend what has been a two-week championship to four (from selections to the final), and it would stage first-round games on the same weekend that the championship game is scheduled under the current formula. Part of the extension is the proposed elimination of the Wednesday game in the first round (holding all games on weekends instead). But what bothered the Presidents Council was that the proposal did not offer a revised start date to the playing season that adequately offset the additional season length and extension of the championship.
The Championships Committee and Management Council were concerned about that as well, but those groups thought the one-year trial would at least provide a basis upon which to evaluate further.
The issue also begs the question of whether the combined championship approach is good for Division III. Presidents Council members noted the success of the men’s lacrosse championships, which have been conducted that way since 1992, and the more recent success of the combined women’s rowing championships. However, playing and practice seasons are more aligned in those sports than they would have been under the ice hockey proposal.
“Had the hockey package addressed the whole length-of-season issue, it might have generated a different discussion,” Schmotter said. “But even beyond that, it’s still not clear how the division feels about combining championships in general.”
To that point, Schmotter noted that the question would be raised in the next membership survey that the Council authorized for this coming spring.
The Presidents Council’s action also affected one of the 13 legislative proposals scheduled for the 2013 Convention. Proposal No. 6 (2-11) calls for moving the first date of competition in ice hockey from Oct. 15 to Nov. 1 (current legislation allows competition on the first day of practice). The Management Council had recommended withdrawing that proposal had the Presidents Council approved the combined championship approach for 2014.
Now, however, Proposal No. 6 remains in the hopper. The idea of moving the contest date away from the first practice date is a student-athlete safety concern, which the Management and Presidents Councils both support.