New Varsity Hockey Division Named

The Board officially named the New League:

North American Intercollegiate Hockey Association (NAIHA)

Calling it the “Varsity” Division is a joke. None of the NAIA teams would even qualify for nationals at the D1 level, and the one that did (UM-Dearborn) got blown out.

It will be interesting to see how long this new division lasts. I think it’s going to be a challenge geographically, logistically, and from a talent standpoint.

I don’t care how much money they offer, kids from the USHL and NAHL aren’t going to Waldorf, Life, or Lawrence Tech.

@Columbo Appreciate your opinion, of course. I’m certain you are not alone in your assessment.

Your snapshot of this moment might be correct. However, there are some interesting facts about the newly formed NAIHA that are extremely encouraging.

First and foremost, the universities and Athletic Directors from the NAIA, particularly from the WHAC Conference, are not just supportive of this effort, but actually behind the main thrust to have NAIA Varsity Hockey. The coaches have some governance authority, but they report to their respective AD’s. The AD’s are engaged and are having weekly dialogue with many of the 249 NAIA universities, specifically to those universities who have established hockey programs. The league needs just 15 teams to have hockey be classified as an NAIA “Emerging Sport”, and 25 teams to be classified an NAIA Varsity Sport where the governance converts from the 501.C to the NAIA HQ. Many other NAIA varsity sports have found success using this exact template and still others are still classified as NAIA “Emerging Sports”. In all these sports, the AD’s have the knowledge and experience to bring a sport from an inaugural year to full varsity. If they did not believe hockey could succeed as an NAIA Varsity Sport, they would not provide the increased funding to get this vision off the ground.

Logistics are challenging, particularly for Waldorf, Midland, and LBU. However, Midland’s travel budget will actually decrease from their season in ACHA M1. Again, the AD’s are committed to the funding until the NAIHA grows the membership. FGCU overcomes greater geographical challenges each year and in the process has matured into an ACHA dominant M2 program due in large part to those running the program and with university support.

The programs do not just offer scholarships. They are all fully funded programs (the student-athletes pay nothing to participate in hockey) with increased budgets for the extensive travel in the early years. The student-athletes will also be awarded university “Varsity Letters” as well.

After initial discussions with NCAA, these teams are permitted to complete against (and in fact, Aquinas has already competed against) NCAA D3 programs. In addition, to NAIA programs, the NAIHA may be open to “incubating” NCAA university programs who are seriously considering elevating their programs to NCAA D3.

Recruiting is always a challenge, but at the End-of-Season Meeting in Columbus, coaches had commitments from some juniors players that would not have entertained these universities in the past. The NAIA does not consider Major Junior (CHL) players to be professional and permits them to roster and compete without restriction, being the first U.S. Collegiate varsity organization to do so. And while the Canadian-U.S. dollar exchange rate is problematic at the moment, there are Canadian NAIA universities as well. But, to your point, recruiting is always challenging, and requires long hours, extensive travel, and a commitment by the coaching staff. Time will tell.

Host sites for a National Tournament are being considered and will be voted on in Naples. What I can relay, is that there are several NHL cities interested, as well as non-traditional hockey market towns. In all bids, the host is granting free ice for the entire 8-team, multi-game tournament. So there is an interest to host this league beyond the university members.

Membership will be at eight for the next season, and looking to be at least 10 for the following year. There are numerous ACHA Conferences with less teams that have had success year in and year out. The league will have its challenges in the early years to be sure, but if the key milestones to watch for are membership growth and recruiting. If/when the NAIHA obtains a membership of 15 teams, this league will be legit in the view of the NAIA. As for recruiting, never underestimate a cooperative admissions office, the draw of minimal tuition, and no out of pocket expenses to participate in collegiate hockey. I am encouraged by the WHAC AD’s support and commitment to this endeavor. The WHAC held a End of Year WHAC Collegiate Hockey Championship, which not only included the NAIHA WHAC members, but also Rochester and Michigan-Dearborn. This event will be an annual event held by the WHAC regardless of the status of the NAIHA.

There are many of us committed to the ACHA Mission Statement - “The primary mission is to support the growth of collegiate hockey.” It is a well known fact that youth hockey has the least opportunity of any sport to participate in collegiate varsity hockey. If this league can get more kids to participate in collegiate hockey, earn a “Varsity Letter”, obtain their diplomas, and be ambassadors for our sport, I believe it is an endeavor worth our efforts.

You might be correct in your assessment, and it is no secret that there are some mean-spirited folks in our sport that are cheering for failure. However I am extremely encouraged by my communications over this past year with many of our friends in the ACHA, the NHL, the AHCA, the NCAA, future sponsors, and most importantly, the student-athletes, coaches, and Athletic Directors of the NAIA universities.

Special thanks goes to Paul Lowden, who articulated the vision of NAIA Varsity and secured an ACHA Board vote of 7-0 to initiate the division. Even after Davenport University (of which Paul is the AD), decided to go NCAA, Paul continues to be a strong advocate and mentor. Though the NAIHA will no longer be governed by the ACHA, we look forward to continued partnerships and occasional cross-over games with our many friends in the ACHA.

I have been searching the web for some information on NAIA for a long time, thanks for the info! Not really sure I understand the first post, the NAIA is simply offering another avenue to play hockey and unlike the ACHA, these teams will operate with pretty much the same funding structure and school size.

I am excited to see how it grows and think there is already a good base of teams. In the future I could definitely see it look something like this…

Concordia AA
Indiana Tech
Lawrence Tech

Robert Morris
St. Ambrose

Montana Tech

Holy Cross (Indiana) and Life excluded

Obviously this does not even include the many NAIA schools who are now interested in adding the sport like CUAA and Providence will do in 2018-2019. I know this concept is at least 5 years away from happening, but the NAIA division will be better off than most people think. Losing Davenport to NCAA D2 athletics hurts but I think people will be surprised as schools will either add programs or spend trying to elevate their current team.

Regarding what the first poster had to say, after a competitive first year, it will only get better when teams like Robert Morris, Midland and Jamestown are added. As far as travel, this year was rough on Waldorf/Lindenwood but every WHAC school is within 2.5 hours of each other which is not too different than what they were used to in D1 and D3. Lastly, why would players not go to those schools? If you miss out on NCAA D1/D3 but can get a cheaper, specialized education at an NAIA school and play hockey for free people will jump on it.

I honestly don’t care if the league is successful or not. I’m all for opportunities in college hockey, I just consider myself to be a realist.

Realistically, NAIA Hockey was pushed by the coaches (Not the AD’s) and a few members outside of the NAIA, who seem to have over-promised and under-delivered.

Thus far, it appears to be poorly thought out, and from what I hear, crumbling before it even starts. I heard that in Naples this past weekend Aquinas, Midland, and Dearborn all declared their intent to go back to the ACHA.

The fact is a lot of schools in the ACHA already offer kids financial assistance of some kind, and have no cost to play hockey. Most NCAA D3 players are paying less than $15k to attend D3 schools with a $55k price tag, that have an established league and conference, and yep, no cost to play hockey.

Again, the NAIA having hockey doesn’t affect me in any way, shape, or form so I really couldn’t care less what happens to it. My issue is trying to give it the appearance of something it is not, which is better than or even on par with, ACHA D1.