@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.