The Evisceration of the WCHA and CCHA
This week, six schools (mostly WCHA) announced that they are leaving to form a new conference. This all comes after a
long-ago (apparently only months-ago) announcement that the Big 10 football conference will now be coming to college hockey and taking Big 10 schools from both the WCHA and CCHA.
WCHA as it stands now and in the future:
University of Alaska Anchorage
Bemidji State (New to D-I and WCHA in 2010-11)
Colorado College (Going to New Conference)
Denver (Going to New Conference)
Minnesota (Going to Big 10)
Minnesota-Duluth (Going to New Conference)
Nebraska-Omaha (Switched to WCHA for 2010-2011 season, and going to New Conference)
North Dakota (Going to New Conference)
St. Cloud State
Wisconsin (Going to Big 10)
CCHA as it stands now and in the future:
University of Alaska (Fairbanks)
Bowling Green (almost lost its hockey program recently)
Lake Superior State
Miami University (Going to New Conference)
Michigan (Going to Big 10)
Michigan State (Going to Big 10)
Ohio State (Going to Big 10)
What does this mean for Div. I College Hockey? Maybe it doesn’t mean much. What does it mean for the CCHA and WCHA? A lot.
As it is, with the jumping-ship of all these teams, the WCHA is left with just five members, which means there’s no guarantee that a team from the league will make it to the NCAA tournament. The CCHA is left with seven.
The CCHA was already weakened (in my opinion) down to an 11-team league with the switch of the University of Nebraska-Omaha to the WCHA. While I am most knowledgeable about the CCHA (Nanook alum), and the CCHA has had quite a few teams jump for the Big 10 — this new conference has essentially eviscerated the WCHA.
For the CCHA, as I see it, the only team that consistently gave UAF a run for its money (that’s left in the conference) is Notre Dame. The Nanooks are on a steady upward swoop, and made it to the national tournament in 2010. As for the WCHA? Minnesota State? Maybe? (again, I don’t keep up on the WCHA nearly as closely as I do CCHA, and even that is less now that I’m not in Fairbanks anymore).
Some have suggested (I think this was in the Anchorage Daily News comments) that the two leagues combine for a single conference — which I think would be probably the best way to ensure success, but I remember from my days in the sport management department at UAF (I got a minor in it) — no league will take two Alaska teams. The travel is just too expensive.
So are the remaining schools (particularly in the WCHA) in a desperate situation? Do they combine forces and suck it up and travel to Alaska for a wham-bam four-game series against both schools? Or do they pick one? Do they stick with their WCHA/CCHA allegiances and leave UAA out in the cold by sheer default of numbers (and leave themselves with an 11-team conference)? Do they have East and West divisions, with each side having an Alaska team? (This I also heard somewhere else, not sure where). That might be a viable option, so each team has to play an Alaska team just once in Alaska, until the crossovers.
Or is it a desperate time for Alaska hockey? Will the teams decide to combine for another 10-team conference, leaving both Alaska teams as independents, scraping for whoever will fly north to play them? The NCAA does have rules in place to exempt games played against an Alaskan team in Alaska (and Hawaiian teams in Hawaii) from the team’s total game count for the year. (Ie, it goes towards their season/league record, if applicable, but if only 28 games — league and exhibition — are allowed per season, 2 games in Alaska vs. Alaska mean a team can play 30 games per season).
While that exemption sounds enticing, I don’t think it would keep the Nanooks and Seawolves alive. As it is, the teams each run a four-team tournament — Alaska, Anchorage, and two other teams, with each team playing three games — vs. Anchorage, vs. Fairbanks, and either a consolation or championship game. To the chagrin of Alaska fans (who love to see the Nanooks and Seawolves play each other), the Alaskan teams don’t play each other in these tournaments, so they can guarantee teams two in-Alaska-against-Alaska games (and therefore entice them to fly north).
Where will the leagues go from here?