Friday, May 01, 2009


There has been much talk this week about the future of the WCHA. Not only did the league vote to seek another team to join Bemidji State on the "We Want In" list, but we may have found out who that will be.

On Wednesday, Nebraska-Omaha strangely named former Nebraska football star and television commentator Trev Alberts as its athletic director, despite his complete lack of any administrative experience.

How the university chooses to blow $150,000 is none of my business whatsoever, so I will refrain from making fun of them. At least they only gave him a two-year contract.

Award-winning UMD hockey reporter Kevin Pates tracked down a report from Omaha on the hire, and it sounds like Alberts is going to start learning him some hockey right away.
Alberts has the responsibility of deciding the status of coach Mike Kemp and of helping determine where UNO hockey will play. Also up for discussion is UNO's conference affiliation.

With the right decisions, Alberts and Omaha chancellor John Christensen hope, UNO hockey can become the revenue-producing machine it was in the early years of its existence.

"It's non-negotiable, from my perspective, that hockey is successful," Alberts said. "It is a Division I sport that we must leverage. I'm committed . . . to finding and giving the necessary resources to make UNO hockey as strong as it can be."

Alberts said he wouldn't be quick to judge Kemp, the only coach in the program's 12-year history. Christensen issued a challenge for Kemp before last season, declaring that UNO should finish in the top four of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association every year.

UNO went 15-17-8 overall, including 9-13-7 in the CCHA to finish tied for seventh, and endured a program-record 14-game winless streak late in the season.

"I've told Mike Kemp that he is the hockey coach and I look forward to helping him be successful," Alberts said. "I told him to go out and recruit and tell recruits that he is the hockey coach at UNO.

"But the reality is, if you do understand how important hockey is, you can't just say it - you've got to take tangible steps to making sure that's in place. I'm not coming in here as athletic director and in two weeks firing a hockey coach. That would be disingenuous."
This all makes sense.

One of the arguments against UNO changing conferences is that the fans there respond to opponents like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Notre Dame, and the response wouldn't be as great when North Dakota and Denver come to town.

However, all of this may be moot.

What people have to remember is that hockey is the only Division I sport at Nebraska-Omaha. That means the program has to be a cash cow for the athletic department. Sports like baseball, softball, and tennis aren't going to bring in enough revenue to be self-sufficient, in all likelihood. They need hockey to turn a solid profit to help everyone else stay afloat.

If the decision is made that UNO can't do better than the 6,300 or so they averaged in 2008-2009, the revenue has to come from other sources. There may be no better way of boosting hockey revenue than moving to the WCHA. The CCHA just doesn't bring in the kind of cash for their league tournament that the WCHA does, and the difference in that revenue could make all the difference for the Mavericks.

Did the WCHA ignore UNO when the program was just getting started? Yes.

Should that be held against the WCHA now? No.

UNO has proven they can play hockey at a competitive level, and they make geographic sense (certainly more than Alabama-Huntsville does). The WCHA seems committed to moving to 12 teams, and UNO is the right fit at this point in time.

With a new administration in place, this might be the perfect time to make it happen. If it works out, it could turn out to be the smartest thing Alberts could possibly do as UNO athletic director.

The WCHA will go to a pod system for conference schedule. There would be three groups of four teams, and the rotation system would take five years to complete one cycle (it takes four years for the current WCHA schedule to go through a full rotation).

The perfectly-drawn geographic pods would look as follows:

Michigan Tech

Bemidji State
North Dakota
St. Cloud State

Colorado College
Minnesota State

Hopefully, Alberts, Bruce McLeod, and all the other important parties can come together quickly and hammer out a deal. It's for the good of all of college hockey.

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