SCHENECTADY – Since rising from NCAA Division III to Division I in the 1991–92 season, the union men’s hockey team has never been awarded an athletic scholarship. It was not until the early 2000s that the program was able to acquire players based on financial need.
But by the end of January, things may change not only for the men’s team but also for the women’s team.
The NCAA will vote during the NCAA convention January 19-22 in Indianapolis on legislation that would allow Division III schools to sponsor a Division I sport that does not currently offer athletic scholarships to do so. Voting will take place on the last day of the session.
Another hockey program that will benefit from the change is RIT.
The union is one of four ECAC hockey schools that are Division III institutions that play Division I hockey. The others are Clarkson, RPi and St. Lawrence. All three of them offer athletic scholarships for hockey.
Two other ECACH schools, Division I Institute Colgate and Quinnipiac, offer athletic scholarships. The six Ivy League schools that play at ECACH, Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Yale do not offer athletic scholarships.
Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said the school, along with RIT, are sponsoring the law.
“We’ve been seeing this for over a year,” McLaughlin said. “Given the real potential for significant changes on the horizon on the NCAA landscape, we realized that we had to come together to put some things into place to keep our programs competitive.”
The law has the blessing of the Division III President’s Council, which gave its support last month. Three other Division III schools that sponsor a Division I sport that do not offer athletic scholarships are Hobart (men’s lacrosse), Franklin & Marshall (wrestling) and MIT (rowing).
Ten schools in Division III currently sponsor a sport in Division I, five of which have been able to offer athletics assistance dating back to a waiver granted in 2004.
“As we gear up for a historic convention for the NCAA, we had a great conversation about how we are best supporting our student-athletes,” said Phineas Miller, president of the Presidents Council and Hamline’s president said in a statement. “DIII membership includes a variety of institutions and athletic experiences. It is therefore expected that any proposal submitted for consideration will be accompanied by an sometimes difficult, but always thoughtful, conversation.”
If the law is passed, union hockey teams could begin offering athletic scholarships immediately.
“It expands our pool,” McLaughlin said. “We have been able to speak to more individuals and identify the best fit to offer for our men’s and women’s ice hockey program.”
McLaughlin said The additional dollars needed to support the scholarship will be funded by the donor.
“This will not affect the financial aid budget available to all students and the union will continue to meet full financial need for all students,” McLaughlin said.
The union men’s team became one of the nation’s top events over the past decade. The Dutch won four ECAC hockey regular season titles (2010–11, 2011–12, 2013–14 and 2016-17) and three straight ECAC tournament titles (2012, 2013 and 2014). He played in five NCAA tournaments, reaching Frozen Four in 2012 and 2014, and winning the national title in 2014.
But since that national title, Union has only been to one NCAA tournament (2017). In 2019-20, in the last season the Dutchmen played before the coronavirus pandemic, they went 8-25-4, their worst record under head coach Rick Bennett.
Union men’s head coach Rick Bennett, who has been with the program from 2005–06, believes the ability to provide athletic scholarships is a game changer for the program.
“It puts Union College, it puts RIT on an even ball field,” Bennett said. “Recently, that hasn’t happened. Now it’s time to have the ball field the same.”
Women’s hockey team will be greatly benefited by providing athletic scholarship. The Dutchwoman has had a no-win season since it became a Division I event in 2003–04. They have never made an ECACH tournament. His highest rank is 10th.
“The scholarship potential for our program will be huge,” said Josh Siba, who has been Dutch women’s head coach since 2016-17. “Obviously, it’s a huge game changer. I think when you look at our schedule right now, when players come to campus, they love school, they love education, they love the degree. Love happens. The return on investment is fantastic in terms of what they are getting.
“But I think the big thing that sets us apart is the cost. Tuition keeps rising. That’s the big deal for families. For us, we want equity. We want to level the playing field. We do this.” We want to make sure we’re doing what everyone else is doing, and having the opportunity to award athletic scholarships gives us that potential.”
Bennett and Saiba said it was too early to determine whether any of the current players would be considered for athletic scholarships.
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