What ever you call it, don’t just call it “club-hockey”.

The ACHA (American Collegiate Hockey Association) might not carry the esteem that the NCAA has, but it is equally important to the schools and student athletes who are members. The ACHA is a chartered, non-profit corporation that works alongside USA Hockey and it’s players are annually invited to the World University Games. The ACHA offers an opportunity for colleges who struggle with large budgets and title IX issues, an alternative to the NCAA. The ACHA’s primary mission is to support the growth of the two and four-year hockey programs, non-varsity college in the U.S.

With the level of talent on display, it is easy to compare Division I of the ACHA to the Division III within the NCAA. The ACHA parallels the NCAA with most of its eligibility requirements, gameplay rules, etc. ACHA schools have had great success maintaining their hockey teams, being just behind football and basketball in the attendance game.

The ACHA was formed in 1991 in Skokie, Illinois, with 15 original mens team members. In 2000, the ACHA added a Women’s division, the second Women’s Division coming in 2006. The ACHA has 420 teams spread through five Divisions and is in 49 states, Hawaii the exception. By comparison, the NCAA has 224 teams spread out over 5 divisions, two of those Women’s as well.

There are currently 3 Men’s Divisions, Division II having the most teams at 200 and 10 conferences. Division II and III sends 16 teams to it’s Championship tournament, Division I changing over to a 20 team tournament this season. Penn State University (D1) currently leads the ACHA with 6 championship titles, Life University (D2) just behind them with 5. Penn State’s hockey program is making the jump to the NCAA Division I at the end of the 2011-2012 season.

The main factor and question about the ACHA is whether they offer scholarships. No, the ACHA does not offer student athletes scholarships. The hockey programs are not funded through the school’s athletic budgets or federal funding, which allows for no title IX restrictions. There are, however, schools who maintain a varsity NCAA hockey team while also maintaining an ACHA team.

ACHA teams are usually funded from student services and player fees, averaging up to $2,000 per player, per season, while maintaining their grades.

 Travel and scheduling are also handled separately from the schools input. A league commissioner sets the league schedule, then individual teams fill out remaining non-league games themselves. Independent schools, who are not playing in a particular conference, set their own schedules. Our Oklahoma Sooners squad is an example of an independent team within the ACHA, with the contact with other teams throughout the ACHA ongoing through the season to create the following seasons schedule.

Travel to these appointed games are usually funded by private donations or fundraisers held on behalf of the team. There are schools who do help with the funding, but they are usually NAIA schools.

While many hockey fans of these schools and college hockey in general may wish to see their team in “the big time”, many factors contribute to improbability. One of the biggest problems facing teams who might want to be at the NCAA level is their location to other schools who can compete and maintain their own varsity teams. The budget for travel, scholarships, and recruiting for teams like OU and other small or southern locations would be a nightmare. While hockey is emerging in many markets, the home grown talent so to speak is still not flourishing and would wreak havoc on a schools budget recruiting out of state, most of the time hundreds of miles away. Not to mention arenas nearby the school. The University of Texas, for example, is this year fighting to keep it’s team alive, trying to find a location to play it’s games in the future.

Title IX also adds a dilemma to these schools, with having a populace that could even maintain the teams at that height of a level of play expected. Lindenwood University is one ACHA school who has had great success with a men’s and women’s team, both winning Championships.

The hockey landscape is always changing. With the Big 10 and National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s starting and the disbanding of the WCHA and CCHA in the next 1-2 years, new opportunities are always there. The size, structure, and professionalism displayed within the ACHA and it’s teams however don’t need to concern themselves too much. Like a tight-nit family, the fans of these hockey teams and the athletes playing the game, are still a thing to be proud of and support. Why look to greener pastures when what we have in the ACHA is pretty darn good?

Support your local hockey.

*A special thanks to Chris Perry of Oklahoma Sooners Hockey for his information in trying to piece this post together.

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Next home game is January 7th at 4pm vs #1 Penn State @ Blazers Ice Center.

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