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Hobart/William Smith officially announced today in a press release on its athletics website that they will be adding varsity women’s hockey in the near future. There was also a job posting on the before linked website for a varsity women’s hockey coaching position that goes into great detail about the position and responsibilities.

The Hobart men’s hockey program has become an established national contender over the last decade under head coach Mark Taylor. William Smith has a long tradition of success with its women’s athletic programs so I expect the Herons will hit the ground running with this varsity program and look to establish a commitment to winning from the outset.

William Smith currently fields a club women’s hockey team and has access to the Geneva Recreation Arena “The Cooler” right in downtown Geneva for a facility. With the addition of a full-fledged D-III women’s program, I have to start to wonder if possibly a new arena could be in the works in the future for Hobart/William Smith since they have to share ice currently with the local youth and high school programs and it is just a town municipal rink with limited capacity and limited locker room space.

The other question this brings to mind is how close are we to possible major realighment/restructuring in Division III women’s hockey?

When William Smith begins its inaugural varsity season in 2014-15, there will be four Division III teams without conferences to call home should nothing change by then. Univ. of New England, SUNY Canton and Stevenson being the other three.

As of right now, there will be 52 Division III teams in total by the 2014-15 season. 31 of those teams reside in the East which starts to beg the question is it time for realignment in the East so that we can find a home for those four teams currently without conferences?

A  SUNYAC women’s league could potentially be on the horizon with SUNY Canton becoming the sixth SUNY women’s program to go along with Plattsburgh, Buffalo State, Cortland, Potsdam and Oswego. I still feel like it would take one more SUNY school to start the league though so they can have an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. That leaves the onus on schools like Brockport, Fredonia or Geneseo possibly to make the move for a varsity team.

Assuming the SUNYAC can’t find a seventh member, here’s a rough sketch of how things could potentially lineup for a future logical realignment trying to keep geography as the No. 1 priority but also trying to maintain competitive balance and not load up a “Super Conference” with traditionally strong programs.

The NESCAC is for the most part set in stone, I don’t see anyone joining or leaving that conference. That leaves the realignment to the remaining 22 schools.

NESCAC (9)
Bowdoin
Middlebury
Williams
Colby
Conn. College
Hamilton
Wesleyan
Trinity
Amherst

ECAC West (8)-
Elmira
Stevenson
Buffalo State
Utica
Neumann
Chatham
William Smith
Cortland

ECAC New England (7)-
Norwich
Southern Maine
Castleton
UMass-Boston
New England College
Univ. of New England
Plymouth State

ECAC East (7) –
Plattsburgh
Potsdam
SUNY Canton
Nichols
Salve Regina
Manhattanville
Oswego

This is obviously just a rough guide and would take some RADICAL changes in administrations, leagues etc. However, it would be for the better advancement of Division III women’s hockey as whole giving every D-III playing and eligible team a conference to play in and chance to compete for an auto-bid to the NCAA’s.

I tried to keep teams as best as I could geographically and keep other teams that are close to them in the same conference for travel purposes. Finding a 7th team for the new “ECAC East” was very challenging…eventually I settled on Oswego since they are relatively closer to Plattsburgh, SUNY Canton, Potsdam etc.

There is obviously no perfect solution. Salve Regina and Nichols are probably stretches for the proposed new “ECAC East”. The formation of the women’s SUNYAC league though may force this proposed change however if they were able to find a seventh team.

Here’s how things could possibly look if that were the case:

NESCAC (9)
Bowdoin
Middlebury
Williams
Colby
Conn. College
Hamilton
Wesleyan
Trinity
Amherst

SUNYAC (7)-

Plattsburgh
Oswego
Buffalo State
Cortland
Potsdam
SUNY Canton
Brockport/Geneseo/Fredonia?

ECAC West (7)-
Elmira
Stevenson
Utica
Neumann
Chatham
William Smith
Manhattanville

ECAC East (9)-
Norwich
Southern Maine
Castleton
UMass-Boston
New England College
Univ. of New England
Plymouth State
Nichols
Salve Regina

Not nearly as radical changes here and all it requires is one more New York State school to add women’s hockey.

This scenario also leaves the Division II and Division I schools currently in the ECAC East out to dry. My solution to that is having Franklin Pierce, Saint Anselm, St. Michael’s, Sacred Heart and Holy Cross form their own new ECAC league. Who knows how tough that will be to make happen.