With Michigan having next weekend off, here’s your topic of the week. The Big Ten Hockey Conference: creating growth or causing pain?
Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal posted an article last night on high level talks between Big Ten officials this past summer regarding the creation of a new Big Ten Hockey Conference.
Long talked about and feared by many fans, it appears there is strong support from some of college hockey’s Big Ten schools and open interest from others. Ohio State is strongly for the league. Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez sounds supportive of the idea saying he believes college hockey needs to become more regionalized. Baggot’s sources indicated that Michigan and Michigan State brought “open minds” to the summer talks. Minnesota is against it.
Fans are concerned that putting several of college hockey’s biggest schools and big name teams in to one league will be the death of the small schools. How would the CCHA look without Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State? Would attendance suffer? Would programs struggle to survive without them? Some programs are already struggling with them.
Who else might join the BTHC? In order to get an auto bid into the NCAA tournament, they need at least six teams, and with only five Big Ten schools, someone has to join. According to Baggot, scenarios tossed about included (a) adding Notre Dame as a sixth team, and (b) some combination of Miami, Bowling Green and Western Michigan. Take Notre Dame or Miami out of the CCHA and now they’re looking very weak.
The flip side to the BTHC is the opportunity is creates to grow college hockey. With the WCHA maxed out at 12 teams next season, the CCHA at 11 teams (and they could max out at 12 teams), Hockey East at 10 teams, the ECAC at 12 teams, and the Atlantic Hockey league at 12 teams next season, it’s almost impossible for a new program to join Division I hockey. And trying to survive as an independent is almost impossible these days, too, especially for an upstart program.
Fans like to talk about growing the sport, yet with all the leagues at a comfortable number (I can’t believe any league wants to go beyond 12 teams), there’s really no room to expand. Hence the creation of a new league, one that will be able to survive (unlike the CHA). But at what cost?
If you take many of college hockey’s western super powers and stick them in one league, what are the repercussions? Certainly it creates the chance to reshuffle the WCHA and CCHA altogether and opens the door for new schools to join Division I hockey. Someone posted on Rivals, I think, that they heard MSU coach Rick Comley on a Detroit radio station mention that a few Big Ten schools were interested in elevating their teams to Division I (thought to be some combination of Iowa, Illinois, and Penn State, though the Nittany Lions face the financial hurdle), hence instant opportunity for them to join and grow the sport.
But what about the damage left behind? I think the remaining teams in the CCHA have the most to lose. The WCHA will still have strong programs in Colorado College, Denver, and North Dakota. I think Dean Blais will help boost Nebraska-Omaha in time, too. St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, and Michigan Tech and the WCHA still looks competitive.
But if you take Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and possibly Notre Dame or Miami out of the CCHA, that’s almost the CCHA’s entire upper echelon. Take out Nebraska-Omaha, who is jumping to the WCHA, and the CCHA will be losing a minimum of four teams and possibly upwards of half the league. If Alvarez wants to regionalize college hockey, I suppose you stick both Alaska schools in the WCHA (so there’s another CCHA loss), perhaps Air Force, too, and move a few teams to the CCHA. If Miami and Notre Dame remain in the CCHA, you at least have a good one-two punch at the top, though the rest of the league is iffy in terms of quality. If Notre Dame or Miami joins the BTHC, it’s not looking good for the CCHA. And you have to wonder how that might affect the recruiting, attendance, and the remain programs’ long term stability.
The top recruits will probably see the BTHC as stronger competition and want to play in that league, hence the struggles the smaller schools that are left behind will face. And if those programs become weaker, what will it do to their attendance and overall health of their own programs (especially without these top teams regularly on their schedule, which helps draw in fans)? Some schools have been rumored to be on life support, and if a BTHC comes to fruition, will the remaining CCHA schools eventually end up like the soon-to-be defunct CHA?
Another idea…might the Big Ten move forward without Minnesota?
Many fans dismissed the idea, but now with confirmation that high level talks have occurred, it seems like it’s only a matter of time until a Big Ten Hockey Conference is created and a big shake up occurs in college hockey.
For better or worse—the BTHC: Good? Bad? Can the WCHA and/or CCHA survive? How would you realign the leagues? Will it ultimately help grow the sport or cause long term damage (i.e. small schools folding)? Discuss.