As NCAA women’s hockey’s only mid-major conference, life hasn’t always been for the CHA. It’s survived the dissolution of its men’s counterpart, numerous team departures and, thanks largely to the previous condition, the lack of an autobid to the NCAA Tournament for its champion.
Well, until now.
The conference announced on Thursday afternoon that, effective with the current season, the NCAA has approved an autobid for the CHA champion.
Commissioner Robert DeGregorio is obviously pleased.
“College Hockey America is both thankful and excited that the NCAA has made the decision to award the automatic bid to the Women’s Ice Hockey Championships. Our teams and coaches have worked very hard to be recognized nationally. I congratulate the teams and coaches in the CHA and I am very thankful to the NCAA for awarding the CHA the automatic bid.”
It’s been a long road for the league. The CHA began with four teams – Findlay, Wayne State, Mercyhurst and Niagara – in 2003-04, but thanks mostly to program cancellations at three of those founding members, it was never able to reach the six teams required for autobid consideration until scoring new Division I members Penn State, Lindenwood and RIT for the 2012-13 season. Since then, two full years of stability have made the conference’s case for inclusion to the NCAA championships.
Realistically, the situation hasn’t caused too much historical injustice, as Mercyhurst won every conference playoff championship from 2003 through 2011 and added another in 2013, while managing to qualify for the NCAA Tournament each season as at at-large team since 2004-05 (advancing to four Frozen Fours during that stretch). Robert Morris was denied an NCAA bid after upsetting the Lakers in 2012’s CHA title game, and while RIT did likewise last season, the Tigers’ status as a transitional program in moving up from Division III would have kept them out of NCAAs even with a CHA autobid.
Now, however, the chance for each league team to qualify for the national quarterfinals by simply winning two (for the top two seeds) or four (for the rest) playoff games, regardless of its record headed into March, will undoubtedly add juice to the late-season drive and increased credibility to the CHA as a more diverse set of programs confront the elite in search of a national championship.