HENRIETTA, N.Y. (WROC) — The RIT men’s hockey team is gearing up for another playoff run, but the biggest win of the season already came in a conference room in Indianapolis. 

“You know I shed a few tears, it was happy tears just to know that it was done and we were hugging and high-fiving each other,” said RIT Executive Director of Athletics Jackie Nicholson.

On January 22nd, a vote changed the NCAA bylaws to allow RIT and four other Division III schools the right to give athletic scholarships to their Division I student-athletes.  The vote passed by a 388-18-39 margin.

Now a hockey program that had already made it to a combined four NCAA tournaments and a men’s Frozen Four will be on an even playing field when it comes to recruiting.

“People that you were recruiting, there were just times when as soon as we said financial aid we were out of the picture,” said men’s hockey head coach Wayne Wilson. “So I think the pool of players is going to be that much bigger for us.”

The Union men’s and women’s hockey teams are now also eligible to award scholarships, along with Hobart (men’s lacrosse), Franklin & Marshall (wrestling), and MIT (rowing).

For RIT, the change might be even more impactful on the women’s side, speeding up the rebuild process for a team that’s won just a single game over the last two years.

“The women’s side of the sport is still growing. So our pool to pick from, especially Division I players, is not as big,” said women’s head coach Celeste Brown. “The player that we can bring is a higher-caliber player. Of course, they’re still going to need to develop and that will be a big piece but just their starting line will be much higher than what we were bringing in before scholarships.”

The scholarships will not only be used for recruits, but also for current players who have already shown their dedication to the program. 

“Giving up all their weekends, their Thanksgivings, their Christmases, and things like that,” said Wilson. “These guys are here the whole time. They’re 100% percent committed to representing RIT and now RIT is able to reward their commitment.”

Each team will be able to award a maximum of 18 scholarships per team. However, it is still to be determined how many will be given out next year, the first year they can hand out those scholarships.