1970s – Major Rule Changes in 1972
Rule changes throughout the 1970s had major effects on the collegiate game. For instance, to curb the number of Canadians in 1971, the NCAA outright banned any players who previously accepted room-and-board stipends; therefore considering them professionals in the eyes of American college hockey. This affected many Canadian players due to the rules that were followed throughout Canadian junior leagues. The NCAA rules have changed throughout the years but ultimately, the current rules still affect Canadian players. The NCAA still has specific rules today that ban players who have accepted payment or gifts based upon their ability as a hockey player. Additionally, NCAA hockey does not accept players who have signed a contract or played in a game for a professional team or even against a professional player. Future NCAA hockey players may sign with any U.S. or Canadian junior hockey league team with the exception of the Major Junior Canadian hockey leagues. By playing in one of the Major Junior leagues or even signing a contract with a team, it renders a player automatically ineligible from NCAA hockey. A major reason is that there are Major Junior players who have signed NHL contracts, rendering them professionals in the eyes of the NCAA.
It was a busy year in 1972 throughout the collegiate hockey landscape. At a meeting in 1972, the NCAA determined they would begin to allow checking throughout the entire sheet of ice instead of up to the offensive blue line. With this change, the NCAA was one of the last leagues to open the ice to full checking. Ultimately, the decision centered on preparing the collegiate players – or to be specific, Americans – for the National Hockey League. As expected, this would have a drip-down effect throughout all amateur ranks in the U.S.
By 1972 the majority of NCAA hockey programs had begun to allow freshmen hockey players to compete in varsity games for the first time. Prior to 1968, freshmen were deemed ineligible to play collegiate varsity sports. The NCAA opened up the rules to allow freshmen to compete in all sports besides football and basketball in 1968. But freshman eligibility was ultimately determined on a conference-by-conference basis with some programs specifically prohibiting it. It took several years but more teams and conferences realized the increase in the talent pool was beneficial to their teams, conferences and the sport. This rule change – when combined with the new full-checking rule – was likely a very positive factor for college programs when high schoolers were faced with the collegiate versus professional decision.
Also in 1972, President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Per the United States Department of Justice, “Title IX is a comprehensive federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity.” By the end of the decade, Title IX opened the doors for a host of NCAA women’s sports. In 1972, Brown and Cornell were the only schools that offered women’s hockey. That would soon change as more East Coast schools took up women’s hockey. In 1976, Brown hosted the first Ivy League women’s hockey tournament.
A new men’s hockey conference was born in 1971 when the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) was formed. The conference’s first season in 1971 included four Midwestern teams: Bowling Green State University, Ohio State University, Ohio University and St. Louis University. The league had a tough start and even played with three teams for several years. However, the NCAA decided to expand their national tournament field in 1977. The previous field was four but the NCAA now allowed up to eight teams to participate with the number of teams to be determined on a year-to-year basis. With this expansion, they granted the CCHA an automatic bid for their tournament champion. Previously, the WCHA and ECAC were the only two conferences with an automatic bid to the tournament. At the time of this expansion, the CCHA was comprised of five schools. The CCHA conference landscape changed throughout the years with several teams leaving and returning. Throughout the years the conference has fielded eight national champions and eight Hobey Baker Award winners. And it’s worth mentioning that one of the teams that is tied for the most national championships at this level of college hockey called the conference home for 32 years: Michigan Wolverines.
Cornell opened the 1970s winning a men’s national hockey championship with the first – and still the only – undefeated season. Boston University took home back-to-back national championships in the following years. The 1972 championship game was held in Boston Garden; marking it the first time the championship was held in an NHL arena. In 1974, Minnesota won their first national championship when defeating Michigan Tech 4-2. They followed that up with a second place finish in 1975 when Michigan Tech exacted revenge. Minnesota won back the champion label in 1976 when repaying Michigan Tech with a 6-4 win. These Minnesota teams were unique in that their coach, Herb Brooks, only recruited Minnesota-born players for his rosters. By the time this decade was over, both Boston University and Minnesota each won three national championships in a ten-year span. Sandwiched between these wins were also two championships for the Wisconsin Badgers.
In 1973, the NCAA officially split up collegiate sports into three separate divisions (I, III and III) based on a set of requirements. This split would presumably group schools similar in size, financial aid, staffing, attendance and other factors. The majority of existing collegiate hockey teams at the time were considered Division I hockey programs. The NCAA created a Division II championship in 1978 for a new set of collegiate hockey teams. Merrimack College defeated Lake Forest College 12-2 in the inaugural Division II championship game. The Division II national tournament would eventually be discontinued the following decade. It began again in the 1990s for another set period of time before being discontinued again.
Next: 1980s – Miracle on Ice