Wednesday, July 6, 2011

PSU Women Apply For CHA Membership

In a conference derby that contained only slightly more suspense than the men's team's march to the Big Ten, the women's team has applied for admission into College Hockey America. Here's the pertinent segment of the CHA release:
Robert DeGregorio, Commissioner for College Hockey America (CHA), announced today that Penn State has officially submitted an application to the CHA for admission for the 2012-13 season.

“The directors have accepted the application of Penn State for admission into the CHA,” states commissioner DeGregorio. “We will begin the process for admission, which will include a campus visit as soon as possible.”

“This is s a great time for the CHA,” comments DeGregorio. “With Penn State’s addition of women’s ice hockey, it was a natural fit for them to apply to the CHA.

“We are looking forward to working with the CHA staff and member schools during the application process,” states Joe Battista, Associate Director of Athletics. “We believe the CHA is the right fit for our new varsity program and hoping to begin league play in 2012-13.

Head Coach Josh Brandwene adds, “We are very honored and excited about the manner in which we are moving forward and look forward to the next step in the process.”
The CHA has certainly not been a conference free of turbulence. It was formed in 1999 as a men's league, later adding women's hockey in 2002. However, it eventually paid a price for its small number of teams with a large geographic distance between them. Citing finances, Findlay and Wayne State dropped their men's programs in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Other schools, sensing the direction of the wind, wisely found homes elsewhere (well, except Alabama-Huntsville) and the men's side of the CHA dissolved after the 2009-2010 season.

What's left is a women's-only division, although it too was put in peril by the same pair of overreaching schools. Founding members Findlay (in 2004) and Wayne State (in May) also dropped their women's programs, leaving the conference with only Mercyhurst, Niagara, Robert Morris and Syracuse as its membership. Penn State (it's hard to believe that the application is anything other than a lock) would make five teams, although that's still one shy of the six-team minimum for an NCAA tournament autobid.

The good news is that new Division I program Lindenwood may be interested in joining up. And if not the Lady Lions, there's been some speculation that Ohio State could jump from the WCHA to the CHA, with Lindenwood taking the Buckeyes' WCHA slot. Either outcome would be great for Penn State, which already has a pair of in-state schools and traditional PSU rival Syracuse in the mix - adding the OSU border war or a new/old rivalry between former ACHA programs to the docket (along with an NCAA autobid, of course) would be icing on the cake.

As a CHA member, Penn State will attempt to put a dent in the stranglehold Mercyhurst has had on the conference, which includes every single regular season and conference tournament title since its 2002 formation (the Head Coach Candidate post on Lakers coach Mike Sisti offers more detail on their program, which advanced to the 2009 NCAA title game before falling to Wisconsin). Syracuse and Robert Morris offer Division I's two newest programs - or at least they did until Lindenwood and PSU joined the party. Niagara is the only CHA school other than Mercyhurst to ever make the NCAA tournament, finishing third in 2002, although the Purple Eagles did so prior to joining the conference.

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