A few days ago Alabama-Huntsville was denied entry into the CCHA. I will be the first to say I was surprised. I pretty much thought it was a slam dunk after Nebraska-Omaha declared their intentions to leave the CCHA for the WCHA, thus leaving the CCHA with 11 teams after next season. However, I was also against the addition of UAH in to the league, so I won’t say I’m disappointed, either.
CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos told AL.com that the CCHA Council’s major concerns included economics, facilities, and location. Most fans have seemed to dismiss this as a cover for some deeper reasoning.
Economically, everyone is hurting around the nation. But in terms of teams traveling, Huntsville is barely farther than Nebraska-Omaha. With the exception of Northern Michigan and possibly Lake Superior State, it doesn’t appear that travel would really affect anyone much differently than the current setup.
However, with many universities struggling with budgets (NMU included), if you take out that long road trip altogether, you save money. Thus, you can look at it as a potential budget cut.
As for facilities, UAH boasts a 6,600 seat arena. Can’t see much wrong there.
Which brings us to location. Huntsville is not in a traditional hockey market, and though they have decent fan support, perhaps the CCHA doesn’t want to expand into a nontraditional market at this time. There are certainly risks of doing so. Will that fan support hold up? What about the flip side?
As most everyone knows, I live up in Marquette. Northern Michigan University hasn’t had the best attendance for several years now. With the exception of games against Michigan Tech, Michigan, and Michigan State, there is rarely a sell out and a lot of empty seats. If Alabama-Huntsville comes to town, do you really think attendance is going to get a boost? No offense to the Chargers, but UAH doesn’t scream “must see” game and most casual fans will probably not want to spend $15 for a ticket to see that game. And I imagine it will be the same at most other arenas around the league, too. So what’s the benefit of adding them to the league?
Over the past two seasons the Chargers have struggled. Five wins this past season, six wins two years ago under their new head coach, who has a big rebuilding job ahead of him. I’m not saying they can’t turn around and be decent, but it might be a bit of a challenge. And you have to ask, from a conference standpoint, is it really a positive for the CCHA as a whole to bring a team like that in to the fold? Right now you’re looking at a potential bottom feeder. Why add a 12th team that could water down the league?
USCHO’s Jim Connelly dismisses the recruiting aspect of being in a nontraditional market by saying:
(Alaska athletic director Forrest Karr) also noted that (Alabama-Huntsville) “isn’t in a major recruiting market.” Wow, I didn’t know that Fairbanks, Alaska, was such a hockey hotbed. How about South Bend, Ind.? That market didn’t seem to hurt Notre Dame when it played for the national title in 2008.
Sorry, I find that argument stupid. First off, Alaska = COLD. Cold = hockey! Sarah Palin can probably see Canada from her house, too. Canada = land of hockey. Recruits galore! Not to mention Alaska boasts two NAHL junior teams, too. But lets look at Alaska’s recruits this year. Many are from nearby Canadian junior leagues like the BCHL and AJHL, and one recruit who plays in the USHL is from…shocker here…Alaska! I know it’s a hard concept for some to grasp that kids leave Alaska to play junior hockey in the Midwest and writers forget that the kids are originally from that recruiting hotbed of Alaska. Even Michigan has tapped Alaska talent before, though the writer probably thinks Jason Ryznar is from Ann Arbor since he played for the U.S. NTDP. Quick, name the last recruit to come out of Alabama? Eh…hmm… +1 for Alaska.
Okay, enough about Alaska. South Bend wasn’t hurt when they played for a national title? Okay, so are you expecting Alabama-Huntsville to be playing for said title soon? South Bend isn’t a major recruiting market? First off, you got the name NOTRE DAME. Name value alone, Notre Dame vs. Alabama-Huntsville. +1 Notre Dame. Second off, you got a legendary coach in Jeff Jackson. +2 Notre Dame. Third, the NTDP is only two hours up the road in Ann Arbor, as well as junior teams like Honeybaked, and you’re not far from USHL territory with the Indiana Ice just to the south. Maybe kids aren’t coming straight out of South Bend (then again, how many come straight out of Ann Arbor?), but Notre Dame is easily situated in an area surrounded by hockey. And kids are going to come play for Jeff Jackson. +3 and +4 Notre Dame. Are you expecting all the top recruits to suddenly want to play in Alabama for Danton Cole? In Alabama?? Maybe if you’re Gary Bettman.
Maybe there are legit financial concerns among teams. Earlier this summer there were rumors that Bowling Green might fold their hockey program. It appears those fears have been alleviated after the Falcons got $4 million to upgrade their arena. I can’t see them putting that much money into a project without long term support for the hockey team. However, what about the rest of the CCHA’s financial stability? Could another team be in trouble? If the CCHA were to add UAH and next summer another program shuts down, we’re right back at 11 teams. Maybe they want to wait a year and see what happens.
Despite BGSU’s investment, they still have financial concerns. As I previously said, a lot of universities are struggling with budgets and everyone is looking for ways to save money. If you eliminate Nebraska-Omaha and don’t replace them, you save money by not having to take the trip every other year. And while you might think, “Oh, what’s a few thousand to them anyway?” well, hockey isn’t a cheap sport to operate and most NCAA hockey teams lose money or barely break even.
According to the 2007 statistics from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education, Bowling Green’s hockey team brought in $893,361 in revenue. However, they had $1,151,146 in expenses, so overall roughly a $260,000 loss. Western Michigan University’s men’s ice hockey team pulled in $595,488 in revenue but had $1,259,853 in expenses. That’s a little more than $650,000 in the red. That is huge!
Which brings us to Alabama-Huntsville. In 2007 they pulled in $554,468 in revenue, but their expenses were $740,587, for an overall loss of about $185,000.
Anastos said the CCHA wants to “remain focused on maintaining and strengthening our existing members.” Perhaps there is some truth to that statement. Why expand to another nontraditional market when some of your core CCHA teams are struggling financially as it is? How about trying to fix and improve attendance around the league before bringing in another team that location-wise is way out of the way and not considered a big draw?
All that said, I certainly don’t want to see another team fold, however it’s like all the bail outs people have complained about. I don’t think the CCHA should have to bail out UAH simply for the sake of giving them a home if it doesn’t make sense financially or they just don’t see long term potential for the team adding something to the league. The CCHA has enough problems that need attention and don’t need to add another team that will probably just add to those issues.
Maybe UAH should try joining the Atlantic Hockey conference and the CCHA can take a more established team like Mercyhurst, who has a pretty consistent above .500 record since joining Division I hockey and is located in Erie, PA, much more to the CCHA’s liking.
Whatever their reasoning, remember this—this is the league that turned down Wayne State, who was right in their own back yard. To put it in simplest terms, maybe they just don’t want UAH.