Atlantic Hockey will offer a full complement of scholarships.
That's big news in the college hockey world and for the 11 member institutions of Atlantic Hockey.
The league, which once capped scholarships at 12, currently allows teams to offer 14 scholarships. The NCAA maximum is 18. Atlantic Hockey was the only conference to limit the number of scholarships its member programs could offer.
The plan is to move to 18 by 2021. The league will move to 15 for the 2017-18 season and add one each year until hitting the max 18. The incremental increase was viewed as a compromise between schools against expanding the scholarship limit and those who wanted to jump immediately to 18.
"Canisius from the top administration through the athletic director and the hockey program have been pushing hard for this with some other schools in Atlantic Hockey to get to 18 scholarships," Golden Griffins coach Dave Smith said. "We already make a great investment in hockey and of the perception is that when you're not at the full number of scholarships you're not committed and that's not necessarily true. I know we are extremely excited and happy to be on a similar playing field with other schools across the country.
"Having the whole allotment of scholarships opens up the eyes of some of the elite prospects. We know we have great coaches in our league who work their tails off. In some regard, we've been playing with one arm behind our back without a full allotment of scholarships."
Playing without a full complement of scholarships has been a handicap both in reality and perception for Atlantic Hockey. While the scholarship cap can lead to perception of schools not committed to their hockey programs it created a real imbalance on the ice. Top lines could match with pretty much any top line across the country but depth was where there often was a talent drop off hampering the ability of many teams from Atlantic Hockey to nab non-conference wins consistently.
Niagara will slowly return to the level it was at when it was a member of the now defunct College Hockey America. The Purple Eagles had 17 scholarships but had to cut to 12 when they joined Atlantic Hockey in 2010.
"It's always been my opinion, and there's no science to it, but I always felt that more money should lead to better results," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. "I'm a proponent of that. It allows you to spread your money around and should make you more competitive on the ice.
"I think this shows the commitment of the 11 member institutions to getting better. Scholarship money is a big part of it. It doesn't guarantee you success but having more money certainly creates a big plus for all our schools."