I will attempt to shed some light on this issue as this post has remained civil and there are some well deserving student-athletes that are not going to experience Columbus. This issue surfaced with very little time to react, yet we mobilized everyone including our lawyer, to gather the facts and render a decision. Let me be clear, this was an issue that could only have a bad outcome or a worse outcome. Anyone who thinks we take these matters lightly or with malice is truly mistaken.
Fish, give me some slack - silence deafening?! I'm responding in less than 24 hours, man! This is a complex issue with facts still unfolding - I wanted to present as much information as I am able.
Here are the facts on the NECHL:
1) Syracuse won the NECHL title and therefore would be awarded the auto-bid if the league complied with the by-laws.
2) There were two teams in question that had been reported to have less than 20 games, and thus placing the league not in good standing with ACHA M1: Cortland and Binghampton.
3) Cortland had actually played 20 games, but score sheets were not added into Pointstreak. They are being added this week.
4) Binghampton played less than 20 games, however, the team actually quit on the league and has left, not only the NECHL, but the ACHA. They are no longer associated with the ACHA.
5) The M1 Commissioner/ACHA expanded the 16 Team Nationals to 20 teams several years ago to accommodate auto-bids that were not ranked in the Top 16. The fact that not all those slots might be filled permits #17-#20 ranked teams to have a shot at earning a bid as well. This year #17 is the beneficiary of not having a fourth auto-bid. If we didn't permit auto-bids, the M1 ACHA Championship Tournament would only be the top 16 teams.
Given those set of circumstances (those are the facts as best we have ascertained in such a short period of time), and the fact that this M1 policy rule had not been enforced in the past (not an excuse, but does hold some legal merit), the appeals committee decided to uphold the Commissioner's ruling that Syracuse be afforded the auto-bid. We felt we could not hold the kids of Syracuse accountable for a team that has essentially quit on the league and the ACHA mid-season.
Having said that, there has been an additional substantial fine applied to the NECHL. If not paid by the start of next season, they will lose their auto-bid for the 2017-2018 season.
We all realize that either way this decision was made, there would no doubt be disappointment.
Now let me talk a bit about the future of M1. One of the most pressing issues for the ACHA, in my humble opinion, is the fact that several leagues/teams are playing above OR below their skill and organization level in their respective divisions. Working with the commissioners and several board members, we have been discussing policy changes that will incentivize teams to "move" to the division that will provide the best competition at that level while (and this is most important) creating more parity within our divisions. M1 has several leagues that are challenged every year to compete at that level, while M2 and M3 have "sandbaggers" that could easily compete at a higher level.
To that effect, there are several changes forthcoming in M1 to maintain a certain selectivity in the application process as well as a mandatory review of those that fail to maintain certain competitive level results as measured by membership approved metrics.
Under the proposed rule changes to the application process, only six teams would be eligible to apply for membership (and a coaches vote) due to sustained performance in M2, of which one was excepted this year, NYU. All six of these teams could compete with the upper 50% of M1 week in and week out. The proposed review process will trigger a review of almost a dozen teams.
M1, like NCAA should be the ACHA premier division in every aspect, year in and year out. Restricting admission to only those programs that are organized to compete at that level and enforcing the policies (many that are already in the handbook under the M1 policies and procedures) we believe will shape M1 into a more competitive division, top to bottom.
In M2, we've welcomed the NECHL to take a look and have developed a plan to provide an M2 auto-bid as well as additional independent NY State teams looking for good M2 competition. We would have to find homes for those NECHL teams that are truly M1 - Syracuse has already accepted an invitation to move to join the ESCHL next season.
I realize that coaches are seriously focused on Columbus, as they should be -and this group only focused on M1. However, we have to look to the health and welfare of the the entire ACHA. We are very concerned about the fact that NY teams are leaving the ACHA - Ithaca last year, Binghampton this year. If we don't get NY right, and soon, we might lose a most important State with a rich tradition in our sport and an extensive university network.
One last point. The ACHA is going through a transition period, if you haven't noticed. The commissioners, the lawyer(s), and I have worked through the Manual and are attempting to apply the rules an policies to the best of our ability. Being a retired Navy pilot, I am OCD on the rules and have been discussing those with the commissioners and our lawyers on a regular basis. When we picked up the carpet, we found much dirt hiding there. We have been working hard to clean this up. Fortunately, most of the violations are unintentional - the teams have been sanctioned, and we move on. We don't publicize our findings (this is an exception), as we don't want to embarrass the team/coaches/student-athletes.
We have a player who's coach asked his league, who asked his commissioner, and received permission (right or in error) from the commissioner to participate in the ACHA being crucified on social media by those who are making life unbearable for this kid. I am told he may quit the team prior to the post season, and at the very least he is extremely distressed. There was another kid who failed a number of classes in the fall and was mentioned by name on this site. Since when is ACHA "CLUB" hockey so important that we have to destroy these kids on social media (one who up until this week, thought he was only doing the right thing and was told that by everyone in his chain of command and the other who feels he let his family and team down)?! While almost all that I have come to meet in this organization over the past decade have been exceptional individuals, there is an element that I will never understand. I spent the weekend in a rink watching an ACHA league Championship Tournament where the freshman goalie played 8 minutes in a semi-final game and the entire final game on a broken ankle. I saw the team raise the Cup like it was given by Lord Stanley himself. I talked to the winners and losers alike. These are great kids graduating to becoming something bigger than hockey. Yet they will tell their friends, family, kids, and grand-kids of the joys of their time spent in the ACHA. Yet there are student-athletes today who we are placed in authority over, who will remember the ACHA in a different light - an organization who destroyed their reputation and that of his team's for something that won't be remembered five years from now. And they will be telling their hockey friends an entirely different tale of the ACHA. Good luck in recruiting any of their friends or younger siblings.
I stood before you all and told you that my first priority are the players. You can tell me to go to hell or suck some part of someone's anatomy as has been suggested - as a Navy pilot I was told to do most of those things on a daily basis. However, I would ask that your posts consider the effect and impact on these young student-athletes. They and their parents are reading these posts as well. And at the end of the day, we will not be remembered for the mistakes or the disagreements, but how the ACHA conducted business.
For those that are serious and want to make proposals, provide feedback, criticize our efforts, or simply want to understand what we are trying to do on a larger scale, my iPhone and email are always open. I appreciate greatly all the feedback, both positive and negative from all that have provided.