On Oct. 16, the Colgate Raiders of the ECAC Hockey Conference played Nebraska-Omaha to a 1-1 tie in what was the Raiders’ third game of the season. Hours before, the Yale men’s hockey team had just started its first practice of the 2009-’10 campaign, a season in which the team will look to repeat as ECAC Champions.
The Bulldogs will not open their season until Oct. 31, when they play Princeton, and will have to wait another seven days until they officially open their ECAC schedule.
Such is the challenge for an Ivy League hockey team.
While all NCAA athletes must adhere to the restrictions in the NCAA’s 431-page rulebook, the Ivy League handbook spans hundreds of pages and contains an additional set of rules restricting admissions guidelines, scheduling and transportation, which can put Ivy League teams at a disadvantage against their non-Ivy opponents. Yale’s hockey teams — among others — know the repercussions of the Ivy League’s added regulations.
The Bulldog men’s and women’s hockey teams compete against both Ivy and non-Ivy schools in conference play. The teams compete in the ECAC, which is composed of 12 teams — six Ivy teams, two D-I schools (Quinnipiac and Colgate) and four schools whose only D-I sport is hockey (Union, RPI, Clarkson and St. Lawrence).
Among the rule discrepancies is that the Ivy League restricts the date practices can start for hockey teams until two weeks before the start of the season. This year, that date was Oct. 9 for the women and Oct. 16 for the men.
“It’s certainly a challenge,” women’s hockey head coach Hilary Witt said. “Obviously they get to start a little earlier, they get to have some games under their belt. It’s definitely something that you would prefer not to have to deal with. But at the same time, it’s the rules, and we respect and play within them.”
For example, Yale’s second conference opponent this season, Clarkson, played two games before the Elis were even eligible to start their first practice. This past Friday, the Elis played against Providence, which had six games under its belt before facing the Bulldogs. The game ended in a 2-2 tie, but goalie Jaclyn Snikeris ’11 said there was definitely a different feel at the beginning of the season.
“We definitely pick up the intensity because we know they’ve already played more games,” she said. “I think we do take that into account in the beginning of the year, but towards the middle and towards the end, I don’t think it comes into play that much.”
In order to prepare their teams for competition early on in the season against squads with more experience, some women’s coaches in the Ivy League scheduled pre-season scrimmages among their teams. Men’s coaches in the Ivy League have scheduled non-conference games against each other before their first conference game. In the case of Yale, the Bulldogs begin their season at Princeton on Oct. 31.
This season, the Bulldogs will be playing a non-conference game against Princeton before starting league play. But forward Mark Arcobello ’10 said the lack of game experience is still a disadvantage at the beginning of the season.
“They know their players better, they know each other, and they’re used to playing with each other for a couple more weeks than we are,” Arcobello said. “After the first couple weeks, everyone gets settled. The first couple weekends, you figure your teammates out and stuff, and they figure that out before us with those two extra weeks.”
In addition to this rule, the Ivy League restricts eligible players for away games to 22 players, while the ECAC limit is 23. Witt said this rule is not much of a disadvantage to her team because of the roster’s small size — 21 deep. But on the men’s side, head coach Keith Allain said this rule can sometimes affect his team of 27 on the second night of a double header.
“It affects your situation when guys get sick or hurt on a Friday night,” he said. “There’s a provision where we can bus a kid to a site, but logistically it gets very difficult. So there’s been instances where we’ve had to bring a guy in for a game Saturday night because of injury or illness on Friday night.”
Both coaches agreed that this rule brings up an additional challenge — trying to foster a sense of teamwork. Restricting players on away games limits the time that each team has to bond.
“You do a lot of good positive team building [on the road], and it’s unfortunate that some kids have to miss out on that experience,” said Witt.
However, if the past is any indication, it seems that these restrictions have had little impact on an Ivy’s team success. As of yesterday, Cornell, Yale and Princeton were ranked sixth, seventh and 11th respectively in the men’s national rankings. Additionally, last year the Bulldogs put up the best season in Yale hockey history, won the ECAC championship, and earned a berth in the NCAA national tournament.
“I don’t think there’s been a competitive disadvantage for the six members of the Ivy playing in the ECAC,” ECAC Hockey Commissioner Stephen Hagwell said. “Harvard’s always been strong, Dartmouth’s been strong. It’s kind of been cyclical since I came into the league.”
In fact, the only rule that has been changed since Hagwell’s entrance into the league 10 years ago was restricting ECAC teams to 23 eligible players on the road, he said.
Hagwell explained that coaches can meet and vote on changing ECAC rules. But during his tenure as commissioner of the league, no coaches have brought up any major complaints.
IVIES: THE D-I EXCEPTION
Hockey, however, is the only sport in which Ivy League schools compete in the same conference as non-Ivy League schools.
Yet this does not mean that restrictions do not have an impact in other sports.
Erin Appleman, head coach of the Bulldogs’ volleyball team, coached outside of the Ivy-League before coming to Yale in 2002. She was an assistant coach at Cal State Northridge, the University of San Diego and powerhouse Penn State, all D-I schools. The biggest difference coming from Penn State to Yale, she said, was that the Ivy League allows less offseason practice time than the NCAA regulations alone.
The Ivy rule says fall team sports like women’s volleyball are allowed “12 practice opportunities with coaches during the spring that must be declared as a non-traditional season. Teams are limited to a maximum of three, two-hour sessions per week.”
In comparison, other D-I volleyball programs are allowed six weeks of offseason practice, Appleman said, based on her experience coaching at previous D-I schools.
“It’s fair within the Ivy league … But when you’re talking about trying to train individuals and develop them into strong players, then it does really make a difference,” Appleman said. “The players just play a lot less, so it’s harder to kind of maintain the ball contact, whether it’s shooting, whether its passing — you can name whatever sport there is.”
The Bulldogs fell to Appleman’s former school — and the eventual champion — No. 1 Penn State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament after winning the Ivy League championship and beating Ohio in the first round.
Yale football head coach Tom Williams also has coached at San Jose State, Stanford, the University of Hawaii and the University of Washington. Williams, like Appleman, noted the shortened offseason practice time allowed in the Ivy League. Other D-I schools are allowed 15 spring practices compared to 12 in the Ivy League.
But for Williams, the Ivy League rule restricting coaches from putting their team in a hotel the night before a home game has the biggest effect on the team. While many non-Ivy League teams house their teams in hotels for home games in order to minimize distractions, Ivy League teams are prohibited from doing so, according to league rules.
Williams said the team attempts to have its home schedule resemble the travel itinerary as closely as possible.
“You obviously can’t go in each guys room and make sure that they’re in bed at a certain time, so you hope that it’s important enough that they do,” Williams said. “But obviously there are some things that are out of your control,” he added.
One of the biggest differences between Ivy League schools and most other non-Ivy League schools is the use of full scholarships in the recruitment process, in addition to a later notification date for prospective student-athletes. Appleman said the combination of these two restrictions makes recruiting prospective students to her team much more difficult.
“The trend now in athletics is to commit to schools early, but that’s very hard to do in the Ivy League,” she said. “So it’s fair within the Ivy League, but it’s very hard to try to get recruits who might want to go to a scholarship school that is pressuring them.”
She also noted that Yale’s date of admission notification for athletes could be up to four to five months after most other D-I schools.
Because the hockey teams play in a league in which other schools are allowed to offer full scholarships, the discrepancy they face is larger. Potential recruits could be attracted to the competition because of the money that the other schools offer.
But Yale senior associate athletic director Wayne Dean said he is content with Yale’s opportunity to compete in the ECAC.
“[The other schools are] very competitive academically, so there’s probably a time when somebody decides to go to those non-Ivy ECAC schools for many reasons,” Dean said. “They’re different academically and different geographically, but together I feel like we make the best hockey league in the country, and we’re very competitive nationally.”
Correction: Oct. 28, 2009
An earlier version of the caption accompanying this article incorrectly stated that the Yale men’s hockey team will begin its 2009-’10 season Nov. 6 against RPI. The team will begin the season against Princeton on Oct. 31 and will begin conference play on Nov. 6 against RPI.