A proposal to expand the NCAA National Collegiate Women’s Hockey Championship Tournament from eight to 10 teams was tabled by the NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee this week, according to an NCAA spokesperson.
The NCAA women’s hockey championship has been an eight-team tournament since 2005 when the Hockey East postseason champion began receiving an automatic bid along with the postseason champions of the WCHA and ECAC. College Hockey America began receiving an automatic bid in 2015. It was a four-team tournament during its first four years from 2001-2004.
The proposal, which was advanced to the competition oversight committee by the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Committee, sought to expand the tournament from eight to 10 teams right away starting with the 2021-22 season in anticipation of the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance (NEWHA) postseason champion receiving a possible auto bid starting with the 2022-23 season. That would push the national women’s hockey tournament over the NCAA threshold for automatic berths.
Bylaws mandate a national tournament needs at least a 50-50 split between automatic bids and at-large bids for a national tournament, which is where the current eight-team tournament stands.
Minnesota Duluth head coach Maura Crowell and associate head coach Laura Bellamy are part of a working group that put forth the proposal this offseason. UMD athletic director Josh Berlo is a member of the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Committee.
Speaking with the News Tribune about the expansion proposal back in May, Crowell said moving from eight to 10 teams is not only about preserving a balance between automatic and at-large berths. It’s an equity issue for the sport, she said.
In 2022-23, there will be 42 teams eligible for the National Collegiate women’s hockey tournament. Taking 10 teams would mean 23.8 percent of the schools would advance to the national tournament. Leaving the field at eight would mean only 19 percent get in.
In comparison, the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament features 16 teams with 59 programs scheduled to take part in the 2021-22 season (Robert Morris, Alabama-Huntsville and Alaska-Anchorage have suspended their programs for 2021-22). That’s 27.1 percent of its membership making the national tournament, with just six of the 16 bids being automatic and 10 being at-large.
“Equity is a big deal,” Crowell said. “It's important.”