January 30, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Commentary: Defending Niagara's Move

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Ed McLaughlin awoke this morning to a scathing critique of his job performance from his hometown newspaper.

The Niagara athletic director coordinated the move of his men's hockey program into Atlantic Hockey, something that was made official Thursday.

The move was prompted by the impending demise of College Hockey America, which would negatively impact Niagara's chances of a bid to the NCAA tournament. There was pressure from within — most likely including his own head coach — to play as an independent if necessary, so that Niagara could maintain the 17 scholarships it's been handing out, instead of the Atlantic Hockey maximum of 11 (which goes up to 12 next season).

McLaughlin made the decision that Atlantic Hockey was a better idea, as he explained candidly and in full on the school's web site yesterday.

McLaughlin does not deserve the criticism, and Bob DiCesare's column is completely misguided.

DiCesare writes that McLaughlin's move sends a message that Niagara isn't to be taken seriously anymore. He said the program was in good position: "All Niagara needed to complete the journey was for a major conference to grant it admission."

Sounds great. And all I need to be wealthy is to win the lottery.

Niagara was never going to get admission into a major conference. DiCesare criticizes McLaughlin for not sticking it out, but McLaughlin investigated every angle before coming to an obvious conclusion: no other conference was going to let them in. McLaughlin didn't have the luxury of time to sit around and wait, hoping for a miraculous set of events to occur.

The most logical possibility among the "Big 4" for allowing Niagara in, was the ECAC. But the Ivy League schools in the ECAC, in particular, do not want to change the 6-Ivy/6-non-Ivy balance that the league currently has, and were never going to be in favor of expansion. And why should they be?

DiCesare writes: "McLaughlin’s decision isn’t only defeatist, it’s shortsighted and impulsive."

He's wrong. Niagara's hopes elsewhere, were non-existent. That's reality.

He spends a lot of the article talking about how Niagara could have waited until the other conferences were ready to expand. But I might as well wait until the governments expands the amount of senators to 200, and I might have a better shot of becoming one. Neither of those things are going to happen in any foreseeable future.

What it comes down to is the scholarship concern, and certainly it's unfortunate that Niagara has to downgrade.

But what is clearly overlooked in the knee-jerk attempt to criticize, is that the Atlantic Hockey scholarship limit of 12 is hardly set in stone. If Canisius is indeed willing to go to 18 scholarships for its program, as DiCesare suggests, then together Niagara and Canisius can help fight for change from within. In other words, by being in Atlantic Hockey and making the league stronger, Niagara can lobby to get the limit increased — with the assistance of other schools that may be willing to go along: Holy Cross, Sacred Heart, Robert Morris, Mercyhurst, RIT, etc...

And it's very possible it could lead — down the road — to Atlantic Hockey splitting into two sub-conferences, each with six teams, and each with an automatic bid to the NCAAs.

Sure there's work to be done in those areas. But those options are far, far more likely to occur than gaining acceptance into one of the other conferences.

McLaughlin's move, while a difficult choice, was the right one for Niagara now.

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