As of the premature end of the 2020 season, the NCAA had 60 registered teams competing in Division 1, consisting of six conferences and one independent team (Arizona State). That number looks to be remaining the same, but with a twist. The Long Island University announced that they are adding a Division one hockey program in the fall, starting with an immediate recruiting. The shocking news comes out of University of Alabama-Huntsville, as they have announced they will be cutting their program, along with men’s and women’s tennis, due to budget constraints from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Long Island University’s announcement will throw a wrinkle into many proceedings. It is unclear whether they will join a conference or remain independent, but it is presumed that they will remain independent with a shortened schedule for the year, as it will be very difficult for them to find a fitting conference out of the gate. The Hockey East and ECAC are already out of the picture as perennial powerhouses and not in need of new teams; also, the Hockey East requires a facility that seats 4,000 – minimum – for expansion teams. Games will also be hard to come by on a limited time basis – it will be hard to schedule games for 2021-22, let alone this coming season. It is difficult to see how they will have success when forming a team this late and dealing with fast-approaching deadlines. Their one golden opportunity might be to steal some games from teams that were to play the now-cut UAH program.
University of Alabama-Huntsville (2-26-6 in 2019-20) leaves the WCHA down a team, as they announced they will be cutting their program. The first D1 hockey team to cut its program in 12 years, UAH has been receiving support from alumni, including Cam Talbot, a goalie in the Calgary Flames organization who played and attended UAH from 2007-10. The administration made the announcement, claiming budget constraints inflicted by the pandemic to be the reason. However, the door has stayed open because $1 million could save the program, if raised in time, but it will likely do little to no good, as many players have already begun transferring. If they are unable to come up with the funds, it will leave Alabama State as the lone team in the Sunbelt.
Ultimately, it is sad to see a program go, especially at the D1 level, as it potentially could contain some future pro level talent, but change is necessary. It’s bittersweet to be losing a program but also exciting to get to watch the beginnings of a new one. I look forward to seeing what else the 2020-21 season will bring us, assuming we get one.