As Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald first reported, the Big Ten Hockey Conference won’t be the only new kid on the block during the 2013-14 college hockey season. WCHA members Colorado College, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, and Minnesota-Duluth, along with the CCHA’s Miami (Ohio), will all leave their respective conferences to join a new “Super Conference” that will start-up during the fall of 2013, leaving both the WCHA and CCHA shells of their former selves and leaving the remaining programs in peril.
And to think that this was all started by Penn State announcing last September that they would elevate their club program to D-I status.
That of course triggered the formal creation of the long-rumored Big Ten Hockey Conference, which resulted in Minnesota and Wisconsin announcing they were leaving the WCHA after the 2012-13 season, and CCHA’ers Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State doing the same.
It sounds like Notre Dame and/or Western Michigan could also become members of the “Super Conference” later this summer. Details of the conference will be announced next week so we could learn more then.
First of all, how lucky is Minnesota Duluth? A few years ago, there was next to nothing separating them from the likes of St. Cloud and Mankato, but they were good / fortunate enough to win the NCAA title and open their new building all within the last eight months, and now they are riding high alongside the Denvers and North Dakotas of the world. Kudos to the Bulldogs.
Conversely, this really sucks for Bemidji State. They spent a ton of time and money getting into the WCHA as College Hockey America, their previous conference, disbanded, and now they are left as high and dry as anyone here.
So what does this mean for the “reject” teams and college hockey as a whole? I’m sure over the next several weeks you’ll see lots of college hockey wonks making bold statements of gloom and doom, and certainly the writing on the wall isn’t pretty, but it’s way too soon to know how things are going to unfold both in the short and long-term for both the haves and the have-nots.
The WCHA is now left with Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State. The CCHA, meanwhile, has Alaska, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Notre Dame (?), Western Michigan (?), Lake Superior State, and Bowling Green.
On the surface it would make sense for those reaming teams to try to form a new league, so we’ll see if that comes to fruition.
As I see it, maybe the biggest key to keeping these programs going, especially the WCHA ones, is for the “big boys” to still travel to these rinks to play non-conference games. As any Gopher fan who makes roadtrips knows, it costs way more to watch the Gophers play in St. Cloud than it would for, say, Bemidji State play the Huskies. And on top of that, it’s sold out when the Gophers go there, which isn’t always the case for when other teams travel to the National Hockey Center.
However, now that Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc. will be in a different conference that St. Cloud, Mankato, etc., there will be nothing forcing those schools to travel. As we’ve seen in recent years, the Gophers, for example, and more than happy to play cupcakes in non-conference play at Mariucci Arena and college the cash as opposed to heading on the road to play legit teams. Not all teams have gone down this road; North Dakota, for example, still plays legit non-conference road games each and every season.
If the big schools choose not to travel to the small schools, I have a tough time seeing how they (small schools) are going to survive playing nothing but home dates against other small schools. The buildings will be half-full and the ticket prices will be “non-inflated.”
Add in the added cost of probably having to travel more, and it certainly doesn’t look good.
It’s still a little unclear how the new Super Conference will gain a lot of financial stability versus where these teams would be if they stayed in the WCHA. The conference won’t have the cash-cow of the Final Five in St. Paul at the end of the season, that’s for sure. They’ll have to travel / fly more as well it looks like, especially if Notre Dame and/or Western Michigan get added. Unlike the Big Ten, they do not have a TV network to fall back on that’s stocked with truck-loads of cash.
Again, how this all plays out is up in the air. But I think it’s safe to say the “glory days” of being a college hockey fan are gone, especially for those of us based in the State of Hockey. No longer will there be easy 1-2 roadtrips to watch your team – regardless of who you back – on a seemingly every other weekend basis. In all likelihood, there won’t be an annual conference tournament in the heart of St. Paul, and even if one of these two new conferences cycles their event through there on regular basis, it won’t even come close to the level of excitement and “fan comradery” that the Final Five brought to the X.
But as fans of college hockey, we just need to savor the next few years of the WCHA, and hope that the powers-that-be can figure out a system that maintains programs, grows the game, and still makes things enjoyable and accessible for us, the fans.
Sadly, when dollar signs are driving the ship, often times the fans don’t factor into the equation as much as they should.