January 29, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

McLaughlin Answers Questions on Niagara Move

CHN Staff Report

Niagara athletic director Ed McLaughlin released a statement on the school's web site today, forthrightly outlining the school's rationale for moving to Atlantic Hockey — as was reported earlier this week.

The full text is here:

Our goal in looking for a solution to the hockey conference issue was to find a conference with other institutions like us athletically and academically so that we could ensure sustainable success and compete for an NCAA Tournament berth every year. I firmly believe that we have accomplished that goal.

But the solution is not that simple and anyone who follows college hockey understands that notion. In moving to Atlantic Hockey, we will conform to the cost-containment model of 12 athletic scholarships. Though we are not fully-funded with 18 athletic scholarships like programs in more traditional conferences, it will be a drop from what we currently fund. That sacrifice will not be easy but it is the right move, especially considering the landscape of the college hockey world.

An alumnus and fan wrote to me and asked what options we considered when looking at this move. Did we consider the ECAC Hockey League? Yes, but the ECACHL has no interest in expansion nor does it have a reason to expand, like it did when Vermont left and Quinnipiac went into the league. Same for Hockey East and the CCHA, but on top of that we don’t fit in either of those conferences in terms of facilities, funding or institutional profile. The WCHA recently lifted its moratorium, but we fit with those schools even less, especially considering the geography and travel involved.

Others asked about playing as an independent, not playing in a conference at all and scheduling across the country “until something opens up.” The reality of the situation is that playing as an independent is very, very difficult, so much so that only one team in any sport can do it, Notre Dame Football. Niagara Hockey is not, nor will it ever be, Notre Dame Football – and that is a good thing. It would be a challenge to get home games and even more difficult to get games in the second semester. If we wait for something to open up, we would be perpetuating the cycle in which Niagara Hockey has suffered throughout its existence – waiting for something to happen and not accomplishing our goal of security and sustainability.

We are committed to providing our student-athletes the chance to compete in the NCAA Tournament and I believe that we have solidified that chance. We do not go into Atlantic Hockey with the belief that we will win all of our games, because we have a tremendous amount of respect for the institutions that will be our new partners. We do go into Atlantic Hockey with the certainty that an NCAA Tournament berth will be within our grasp every year.

Membership in Atlantic Hockey provides us a chance of competing for the automatic qualifier, which is generally known as the AQ, every year. In our current situation with the CHA, we do not have enough teams in our conference to be guaranteed an AQ each year; we have to apply for it through a rigorous process which includes the NCAA Tournament Committee, the NCAA Championships Cabinet and the NCAA Leadership Council. We would not find out until September of each year if we have an AQ for the following March. That uncertainty puts a tremendous strain on the recruiting process.

Lastly, the sentiment that I have heard the most is that the move is a step-down competitively. Those of us involved in the CHA for the last few years certainly take pride in the fact that we have had teams showing up in national rankings. One sentiment rings true and it comes at the point of the season when it matters the most: the number of NCAA Tournament wins by the CHA in its existence mirrors the number of wins by Atlantic Hockey – one.

I look forward to Niagara Hockey being part of the growth of Atlantic Hockey in the immediate future and the long haul. The emotion involved in the situation make the decision hard, but the hard decision in this case is definitely the right one.

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