Sunday, May 19, 2024

SUNYAC faces big membership changes

 

By Collin Bolebruch

 

NEW PALTZ

A month removed from capturing both basketball conference championships, the New Paltz Hawks announced it will be leaving the State University of New York Athletic Conference. 

New Paltz announced its intentions to pursue a new athletic conference ahead of its 2026-27 departure April 3. The news comes on the heels of both Geneseo and Brockport also leaving the SUNYAC, effective for 2024-25.

The Hawks were one of nine founding members when the league was formed as the New York State Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1958. Over its 65 years as a member, the Hawks’ programs have won 26 team championships — eight in women’s tennis, six in women’s basketball, six in women’s field hockey, three in women’s volleyball, one in men’s basketball, one in men’s soccer and one in women’s soccer.

The school is seeking “enhanced profile and competition” with hopes a change will expand recruiting and lessen away game travel time, according to a statement from the school.

A few contenders that could fill these requirements for New Paltz include the Empire 8, the Liberty League, the New Jersey Athletic Conference and the Skyline Conference.

Regardless of where the Hawks end up, the loss of a historic rival and strong competition will have implications for the Plattsburgh Cardinals moving forward.

When Geneseo and Brockport announced its departure, Canton and Morrisville, from the North Atlantic Conference, were immediately announced as new full members. Though both new members had some good seasons this year, neither equate to the departing members’ championship pedigree — the three schools combined for 295 team championships over the SUNYAC’s history.

Now, with New Paltz leaving, no school is in place to take its spot. While it’s possible the SUNYAC could steal another NAC member — SUNY Cobleskill or SUNY Delhi — it’s likely that the SUNYAC will be reduced from 10 to nine members for the foreseeable future.

This will mean fewer conference games for Plattsburgh and potentially smaller playoff pictures for multiple sports.

On one hand, Cardinals women’s basketball, which was one game out of conference playoffs, would have better prospects of earning a playoff ticket. On the other hand, women’s tennis will be reduced to five members, with a four-team playoffs, where 80% of teams make the postseason. Field hockey will have only four members.

Some Plattsburgh squads will have easier trips to the playoffs, but will sacrifice strong competition in doing so.

Without a strong replacement for New Paltz, Cortland has the potential to monopolize winning in the conference. Cortland has won the men’s soccer, women’s soccer, field hockey, men’s ice hockey and women’s ice hockey championships this season.

Beside Cortland — Plattsburgh, Oneonta and Oswego are the only returning schools to have won a team championship since 2015. Two returning schools, Fredonia and Potsdam, failed to produce a winning season in any sport in its last complete season. Buffalo State turned winning records in just three sports.

Moving forward, the playing field has been blown wide open. Playoffs and championships will see faces they haven’t seen regularly in years — if Cortland doesn’t win them all.

 

MEN’S HOCKEY

Plattsburgh men’s hockey’s national profile was threatened last summer, when Brockport and, namely, Geneseo, announced their departure from the SUNYAC. 

With two games against a top-10 team eliminated from the schedule, the Cardinals’ strength of schedule suffered a major blow. The conference just answered in a major way.

In fact, it’s the most definitive move in the conference’s history.

Starting in 2025, Hobart and Skidmore will be affiliate members of the SUNYAC, the conference announced April 10. The two top-15 teams elected to leave the North East Hockey Conference following an exodus of the conference.

The Hobart Statesmen enter 2024 as defending back-to-back national champions — the program may be the best possible the SUNYAC could have added.

While Hobart is a difficult opponent for Plattsburgh to get past in the standings, it boosts the SUNYAC’s reputation at a time where the conference was at a crossroads.

Playing better teams is good for the Cardinals, as wins mean more and losses mean less than an average team when determining the Pairwise rankings.

Skidmore is a program on the rise, and received its flowers in the USCHO.com poll this season. The Thoroughbreds finished this season as runner-ups in the NEHC Championship Final, losing to the Statesmen.

Adding two programs, coming off respective great seasons and boasting bright futures, solidifies the SUNYAC as the best conference in Division III men’s hockey.

It will be difficult for Plattsburgh to replicate 20-win seasons in the new-look SUNYAC, but the experience against good teams and strong schedules are invaluable.

When the 2025 season begins, the SUNYAC will boast five teams that ranked top-15 during the 2023-24 season. That’s a lot of good hockey.

 

WOMEN’S HOCKEY

William Smith will join Hobart in the SUNYAC as an affiliate member, becoming the eighth member of women’s hockey. This is the first time the conference has expanded under the SUNYAC umbrella.

The William Smith Herons finished last season as NEHC Championship semifinalists and will present itself as an immediate postseason challenger. William Smith defeated Norwich during the regular season, something Plattsburgh failed to do twice.

Before the move, the SUNYAC was the third-smallest DIII women’s hockey league in the country. The larger, stronger conference will assist Plattsburgh in Pairwise rankings and give the Cardinals a look at more competition during the regular season.

 

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