Women's Division III is a set of schools and conferences that sponsor women's hockey and abide by the National Collegiate Athletic Association's rules and regulations for Division III ice hockey. Six of the seven conferences that sponsor Division III hockey have women's divisions:
- Colonial Hockey Conference (CHC)
- ECAC West
- Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC)
- Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA)
- New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC)
- New England Hockey Conference (NEHC)
- Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC)
The one conference that does not match up with a men's league is the Colonial Hockey Conference which does have several of its male counterparts playing in the Commonwealth Coast Conference which is an all sports Division III league. Most of the remaining schools do not have conference's to match their male team's as there are ten Division II and III leagues for men. The other three leagues are all sport leagues and do not have enough teams offering women's ice hockey to make offering the sport practical. The only women's conferences that may be formed over the next few seasons is the State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC)as the ECAC West is losing all of its not SUNYAC members to the newly formed United Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Northeast-10 conference whose members are being forced out of the New England Hockey Conference over issues of the Division II teams' games counting towards consideration for bids to the NCAA tournament. The only conference that offers men's ice hockey that is not a reality for a women's conference forming is the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference which only has two members that have women's ice hockey.
These seven conferences represent 61 of the 63 teams that compete at the Division III level in women's hockey. Four of those teams are from Division II and Division I schools that compete in Division III leagues to fill out their schedules, as there is no Division II NCAA championship in ice hockey. Such teams are ineligible for postseason play.
New teams and leagues have already been announced for the 2017-18 Division III season as the United Collegiate Hockey Conference starts play and new (and returning) programs include the Aurora Spartans, King's College Monarchs, Lebanon Valley Flying Dutchmen, Northland Lumberjills , Trine Thunder and Wilkes University Colonels. The lone Division I school playing at the Division III level, Holy Cross Crusaders announced that the program will begin playing at the Division I level for the 2017-18 season in either the Atlantic Hockey Association, Hockey East or playing as a Division I Independent.
Division III represents a commitment by member schools to place academic achievement ahead of athletic success. Athletic scholarships are not allowed.
Women's Division III hockey started to develop with the 1997-98 season with the formation of the ECAC Alliance (with 12 teams) and the Midwest Women's Alliance (with 16 teams). With the exception of the 12 team Division I ECAC women's conference and a lone independent Division I team (Minnesota Golden Gophers) this was everything available at the varsity NCAA level. The ECAC Alliance and the Midwest Women's Alliance was a mixture of what would become Division I and III schools.
For 1998-99 the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference started play with 6 teams and the ECAC formed a strictly Division III league.
The Northern Collegiate Hockey Association formed a women's division with five teams for the 2000-01 season
The 2001-02 season saw the formation of the New England Small College Athletic Conference women's division and the ECAC West women's division. The NCAA began sponsoring a Division III Women's Ice hockey championship in 2002 after two championships were held under the American Women's Collegiate Hockey Association name.
By the 2016-17 hockey season the NCAA had 36 Division I schools, 61 Division III schools and one team playing as a Division II Independent. To put this in perspective, a woman playing as a senior in 2016-17 was born around 1995 with there only being the ECAC hosting a women's hockey division and their being no national championship tournament at any level.
All-time Division III Women's ConferencesEdit
- Colonial Hockey Conference (CHC) (2015-Present)
- ECAC West (2001-Present)
- Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC) (1998-Present)
- New England Hockey Conference (NEHC) (2015-Present (formerly ECAC East)
- New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) (2001-Present)
- Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) (2000-Present)
- Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) (2013-Present)
- NCAA Division III Independent (1999-Present) listing of Division III schools not affiliated with any conference