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January 27, 2009 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Niagara, RMU Get Atlantic Hockey Approval

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Atlantic Hockey athletic directors and commissioner Bob DeGregorio met on a conference call Tuesday, to vote on whether to accept Niagara and Robert Morris as members, beginning in 2010-11.

Official confirmation has not come from the league office yet, but according to all indications and sources, the measure was approved, giving the two schools a home once the CHA officially disbands, following next season.

DeGregorio could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Athletic directors Ed McLaughlin of Niagara and Craig Coleman of Robert Morris declined comment for now.

While not commenting specifically on today's vote, Canisius athletic director Bill Maher, whose school shares a hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., with the Purple Eagles, said, "We have been supportive of Niagara coming in from the beginning.

"There was some action taken," Maher added, "and the league office is going to be coordinating (an announcement) from here."

It's clear at this point that Niagara and Robert Morris did make formal applications, something that had not been previously discussed publicly. Given that, and the feedback coming out of today's meeting, it appears some kind of announcement should happen soon.

"We have been in favor of that," said American International athletic director Richard Bedard. "But that's about all I'm in position to say on the matter."

Niagara and Robert Morris are two of the four remaining members of College Hockey America. Because of its inability to maintain six teams, and/or attract new programs to the league, the CHA has been in death throes now for the last year. The teams may compete as a quasi-league for one more season, but will likely lose its automatic NCAA bid, which it's hanging on to by a thread for this season.

A sticking point for Niagara switching to a league such as Atlantic Hockey, is that conference's limitation on scholarships to 11, well below the NCAA maximum of 18. Coach Dave Burkholder is said to be a proponent of Niagara attempting to make a go of things as an independent, and thus being allowed to keep its full 18 scholarships.

But it's been clear that McLaughlin is pursuing another conference affiliation, and with the ECAC unwilling to open its doors at this time, that leaves Atlantic Hockey as a natural, especially considering Niagara's proximity to existing AHA schools Mercyhurst and Canisius.

Niagara can also be encouraged by the fact that Atlantic Hockey, last year, approved an increase in its scholarship limit to 12.

"The decision then was to take a year or two to fully catch up and then review any other action," Maher said, suggesting the limit could always be increased in the future.

A sticking point with that is the varying nature of the schools in Atlantic Hockey. The league was originally formed as a home for many wayward programs, including those that once played in Division II, some of whom did not want to make a huge commitment to hockey. Thus, the scholarship limit was put in as a compromise between those schools and others.

That raises the possibility in the future of Atlantic Hockey splitting into two divisions, but Maher said that wasn't on the table.

"We have a scheduling model that will have some divisional feel to it, but standings will be one Atlantic Hockey standings and one tournament."

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