Apologies if this is old news to some of you, as what I'm about to write was apparently reported by USCHO back in April (although, notably, even they had it wrong at first). It's definitely new to me though, and I assume to many of you as well.
Penn State's athletic department has confirmed that the men's and women's hockey teams will immediately be eligible for the NCAA tournament upon joining Division I this season. The programs are the beneficiary of the following NCAA bylaw interpretation:
An active Division I member institution that adds a new sport is not subject to the two-year conformity requirement prior to being eligible to enter a team or individual in an NCAA Championship, inasmuch as the requirement is intended to apply only to a member institution that is in the Division I reclassification process. [References: NCAA Bylaws 184.108.40.206 (championships - eligibility) and NCAA Bylaw 220.127.116.11.1 (intent to sponsor varsity sport)]NCAA Bylaw 18.104.22.168 states that an institution must establish compliance with all freshman and transfer eligibility and financial aid requirements for a two-year period prior to being allowed in an NCAA championship tournament. The fact that last season's Icers allowed transfers Bryce Johnson, Justin Kirchhevel, Nate Jensen and Taylor Holstrom to compete without putting in a year in residence (the "sit-out" year) is one example of non-compliance that would have meant that the two-year clock could not have started prior to this season. Bylaw 22.214.171.124.1 (which I believe was the intended reference, not 126.96.36.199.1) applies NCAA recruiting regulations to a sport from the time an institution demonstrates an intent to sponsor it on a varsity level.
Those two bylaws (mostly the first one) led to confusion among the message board set - and with yours truly, to be completely honest - as to PSU's eligibility. That was compounded when Guy Gadowsky, citing a different rule, told The Pipeline Show last month that "we are eligible for the NCAA tournament because we play over 20 NCAA [Division I] games."
Thanks to the NCAA's saying that the bylaws in question weren't meant to apply to a long-established Division I institution like Penn State adding a new sport, consider the question definitively answered.
The interpretation probably benefits the men's team more than the women, as College Hockey America won't have an autobid to the tournament for two years, and no team other than national power Mercyhurst has proven able to wrangle an at-large bid among CHA teams - even tournament champ Robert Morris had to sit at home last year. By the time the women's program has a shot at an autobid, the interpretation will be moot. The men, on the other hand, will likely have several shots at Teams Under Consideration (which are vital the the PairWise Rankings used to determine at-large bids in hockey...I'll save the full explanation for when it's necessary) this year, possibly including Union, Air Force, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Miami, Ohio State and RIT. And of course, there's the matter of 20 games against established Goliaths in the Big Ten in 2013-2014.
I suppose it's worth mentioning that the 2013 Frozen Four for men is in Pittsburgh, while the championship moves across the commonwealth to Philadelphia in 2014. Should PSU stun the hockey world and make the NCAA interpretation matter (and it would be stunning, make no mistake about that), that fact will certainly be a part of a potentially incredible storyline.
Theoretically, it can be done. All that's left is to actually do it, which is admittedly the slightly harder part.