On Oct. 20, the Yale women’s hockey team will step onto the ice for its first game of the 2017–18 season. Prior to facing off against the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Bulldogs will have tested themselves with just two exhibition contests after starting official practice on Sept. 29.
Meanwhile, the Quinnipiac women’s hockey team, Yale’s fellow ECAC competitor, will be enjoying its first off week, having already tallied 420 minutes of competitive ice time. As they begin practice on the NCAA sanctioned start date a week earlier than Yale and play games as early as on Sept. 29, the Bobcats will have played seven nonconference contests, including one against formerly No. 4 Boston College — a four-week head start over Yale.
Delayed athletic start times mean that while all other NCAA teams are awarded the right to practice and compete according to national rules governing a particular sport’s start and end date, Ivy League athletes are left waiting. According to the poorly organized and hard to find Ivy League rules on this subject — I finally uncovered a somewhat formal mention of the rules after clicking a buried link to Princeton’s website — it appears that virtually every Ivy team is forbidden by the league from starting its season on the official NCAA start date, instead being forced to wait at least a week and often more to begin sanctioned practices.
In fairness, there does exist some gray area for sports that have multiple seasons, such as tennis, crew and track. In these cases, although all NCAA schools are permitted to start before the Ivy League, there are a limited number of competition dates throughout the year, so Ivy League teams generally start around the same time as other schools.
Yet for sports such as hockey, football, soccer and a host of others, a stark contrast exists between the dates Ivy League teams and all other teams take to their respective venues for practice and competition.
While it might seem like a minuscule issue, this disparity has ramifications for Ivy League teams that hope to compete on a national level.
First, every Ivy League school is virtually forced to play their first regular season outing against a team with multiple games of experience — a massive competitive disadvantage. In addition, not only does a nonconference opponent have more game experience, but they also have multiple weeks of extra practice time which is especially important in the early going.
To mitigate this issue, Ivy League squads have often turned to scheduling other Ancient Eight foes for an opening “nonconference” game. They have also worked to include weaker nonconference opponents at the front of their schedule.
These solutions, though, come with costs for teams striving to qualify for NCAA postseason play. Weaker opponents mean a lower score in the rating percentage index, or a tool used by the NCAA to rank teams based on their wins, losses and strength of schedule. For an Ivy League team that doesn’t earn an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament through a regular season championship, these hits to its RPI can actually be meaningful. This places Ivy League squads in a tough predicament: either schedule a competent opponent in game one, risking a blowout that may later be used by selection committees to shut down an NCAA at large bid, or schedule weaker opponents, which may diminish a team’s RPI and ultimately do the exact same thing.
If Ancient Eight officials are actually dedicated to seeing the conference succeed consistently on the national stage, a good start would be ending discrepancies between Ivy League start dates and NCAA start dates. These precautionary rules do not have a large effect on the academic standing of athletes, and they hamper Ivy League teams in terms of early season and postseason success.
Nate Repensky is a senior in Silliman College and a former member of the Yale men’s hockey team. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .