Following the championship game in 1984 won by Wisconsin-Eau Claire, the NAIA hung up their skates for good. The reasons at the point have been lost to time, but one can assume that it was most likely due to cost. Regardless, it was a blow to those member schools and their athletes who benefitted from having a varsity status to their program.
Yet after a long, dark night the sun is rising again on NAIA Hockey. Starting with the 2017-18 season, six teams will begin competing in an NAIA varsity division under the direction of the ACHA. Certainly good news for collegiate hockey, this resurrection could provide a big boost for a few lucky Hoosier hockey players as well as the game itself.
As it stands, only one Indiana school that offers hockey is currently affiliated with the NAIA: Indiana Tech. The Warriors will be one of the founding members of the new division, a change that Coach Frank DiChristofaro embraces.
"It's the desire of our initial member institutions to once again combine under the NAIA. The ACHA has done us a tremendous service allowing the incubation of that goal until such time that the NAIA officially sponsors the sport again."
Hockey has done well under the guidance of the ACHA and continues to show steady growth across the country. But it isn't because those schools are unhappy with the way things are now to push for a return to the NAIA. "Each of the member institutions share a common goal," says DiCristofaro. "We would like for NAIA hockey to once again be a prominent college hockey option. The goal is to be governed solely by the NAIA."
With only six schools joining in the inaugural season, there is a long way to go before the NAIA can completely control its own destiny. The NAIA requires the participation of 15 members schools to be granted full varsity status, and there are only 18 NAIA schools who currently compete in hockey. Yet DiCristofaro doesn't think it will take very long to get there. "We have had institutions reach out to us and we have reached out to other potential institutions. The desire is to expand the division in year two."
The new division will allow these NAIA schools to align their standards with their other sports. With some distinct differences from the ACHA in terms of player eligibility, team governance, and operational procedures, the move back to NAIA guidance would certainly make life easier for those athletic departments.
More importantly though, is what it means to the student-athletes in those hockey programs: scholarships. Being governed by the NAIA means that those member schools can offer athletic financial aid packages to players. This could potentially keep some of the best players in-state. And having the best players stick around a little while longer can only mean good things for hockey in the Hoosier state.
Thankst to Indiana Tech Head Coach Frank DiCristofaro for providing some insight on this recent development.