Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fear Not The Big Ten Hockey Conference.

College Hockey America is tanking. Not the latest news to most of us college hockey fans. Bemidji St., Alabama-Huntsville, Niagara, Robert Morris and Wayne St. are all looking for a permanent conference home and not many doors are being opened for them. It began last season when Air Force decided to move to Atlantic Hockey. They have lots of good reasons, I suppose, but I think the CHA should have sued them. Doesn't matter at this point. There's five teams looking for a home.

Bemidji St. went "all in" prematurely with their "let us in the WCHA or we'll fold" strategy. Unfortunately, they didn't bother to gauge the WCHA's "we ain't changing a damn thing" attitude before that gambit. Alabama-Huntsville potentially has the most to lose. Doug Ross doesn't deserve to have his 25-year career there tarnished by outside forces right after he retired following UAH's first trip to the NCAA's. UAH was an "Independent" team back in the day along with UAA and UAF. I feel their pain in particular. If the WCHA hadn't agreed to accept UAA then I'd probably be out mowing the lawn instead of writing this. The situation at Mass-Lowell might present an opportunity (if a current ECAC team wants into HE) for Niagara, though I doubt anyone really wants to see that stupidity turn out badly for Lowell. I don't really know what will happen with Wayne State and Robert Morris. But, without a major change from both the WCHA and CCHA, the CHA programs could be toast. The NCAA is giving the CHA one more year with an auto-bid for their undersized conference. After that... they're on their own.

This subject inevitably leads in a discussion of conference realignment, which inevitably leads to discussion of the formation of a Big Ten Hockey Conference (BTHC). There are endless conference realignment scenarios. Some OK, and some not as OK. Most of them have an attempt at regionally aligning teams for reduction of travel and eventual building of regional rivalries. All well and good. But I'm not about to jump into that, lest I feel like Mendelev shuffling crap around to create the periodic table. Best to mention that, unlike the logic and beauty of Mendelev's periodic table, I'd likely come up with something ugly that nobody likes. It isn't easy, and someone isn't happy no matter the proposal. Someone needs to step up to help the CHA.

It won't be the WCHA – they don't want to change. Its members fear it. Big successful entities are always like that. It's just a fact of institutional evolution. If it ain't broke, don't fix it... eh? But the truth is the WCHA's desire to maintain the status quo could potentially bite it in the ass. Minnesota and Wisconsin are going to bolt for a BTHC. It's as inevitable as the melting of the global ice caps. Seriously, about 4 seconds after another Big Ten school announces a men’s hockey program, Bucky and Goldy are gone. Big Ten alumni all over the country want to see it, and they notoriously are big contributors to their schools athletic departments. There is a new Big Ten Cable/Satellite TV Network. The BTHC is gonna happen. Anyway, aren't Wisconsin and Minnesota sorta like Ununoctium and Ununhexium? They're the big boys on the periodic table, but have less and less relevance to the broader community. I don't think Germanium and Iridium should really lose any sleep because two really heavy elements might be short-lived. The CCHA would likewise survive; it would likely gain some parity. There are 4 haves and a lotta have-nots in that league. Having three of the haves jump to the BTHC would mean better overall competition and NCAA appearances for a school or two that are now pretty much have-nots.

So what is it that the WCHA fears so much that it'll bury its administrative head in the sand? Losing their cash cows. Minnesota and Wisconsin in the league = more money than Minnesota and Wisconsin in the BTHC. They're rink-fillers. Not as many people show up to watch DU play Robert Morris as when the Gophs or Badgers come to town. When you've got two big boys in the conference to boost your attendance (even if it is on a rotating unbalanced schedule) that's something you grasp tightly. The Final Five is the big loss though. It has very high attendance, a fat TV contract and all 10 league teams share its handsome profits. A WCHA tournament without Minnesota and Wisconsin might not outdo the Frozen Four anymore but it can still make money. I doubt though, that there's a single WCHA AD that would take any action that might lead to Minnesota and Wisconsin leaving. But that is short-sighted in my opinion. Planning for the inevitable is always smarter than pretending it ain't gonna happen. And there just doesn't seem to be any way to keep the BTHC from happening at some point. If you know what the future holds, then plan for it.

Does anyone really think very much would change on the college hockey landscape with a BTHC? I sure don't. Hey Donald... the BTHC would dominate recruiting! Don't Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin already "dominate" recruiting? One of those three has had the #1 recruiting class since I can remember. If anything, come tournament time, it's likely that more than a couple of the BTHC teams would be on the outside looking in. As it is, more of them get into the NCAA's than don't. It actually might be more challenging for them to make the tourney from the BTHC. And doesn't that mean that some other team(s) might get a bid? How is that a bad thing? Oh, but Donald... wouldn't they all just get into the tourney and keep the other 54 schools from winning it all? They do plenty of that already don't they? So yeah... those teams will continue to be a huge factor in terms of national championships. No difference to the college hockey world.

So I think there is only one reasonable alternative. Embrace change. Fear not the BTHC. The remaining 8 WCHA teams will do just fine and could likely pick up two potential future powerhouses in UBC and Calgary (Canadian schools seeking NCAA membership). Predicting any sort of major demise for a WCHA without Bucky and Goldy is imprudent and overly sensationalistic in my view. The terrorists are not going to follow us home. Such pronouncements are just fear-mongering. Could WCHA members lose a couple of bucks? Yeah, they could. Cede the mighty Big 10 schools their greatness and allow (nay... push, cajole, encourage) them into a Big Ten league. There's no downside for the Big Ten schools. I can't imagine why they'd be against it and the minimal downside for the WCHA (and/or the CCHA) isn't worth crying about.

Only the BTHC can save CHA member programs. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota have a chance to save almost 10 percent of the programs in Division 1. They should step up by stepping out on their own. They can handle it. They're the Big Boys. Will they? I have my doubts.


Anonymous said...

what about the Sioux and Denver? I think they've been the dominate WCHA teams...not sconnie and the gophers.

Donald said...

They're two of the many reasons that the WCHA would be fine without its Big Ten members.

Goon said...

yeah since DU and UND both have more titles than UofMN and wisconsin. That would actually be a good blog article. Maybe a round table discussion. Hey Donald, I can think of a couple. He, He, He...

444 said...

Anonymous said...
what about the Sioux and Denver? I think they've been the dominate WCHA teams...not sconnie and the gophers.

Are you talking about WCHA Regular and playoff season league play? Because if you are lets see what history says.

DU has 10 Regular Season and 6 League championships. Not bad.

WI has 3 Regular Season and 8 League Championships. Not bad.

UND has 11 Regular Season and 4 League Championships. Not bad.

MN has 10 Regular Season and 6 League Championships. Not bad.

Looks like a wash.

Goon said...

Actually the Sioux have 13 regulars season titles.

puck swami said...

When Minnesota and Wisconsin leave, the WCHA will be in a world of hurt. No legaue tourney cash. No more television, either. Recruits want to play in the best league, and the WCHA will no longer be that.

UBC and Calgary are not enough. The rest of the WCHA become hockey mid majors. Count on it.

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