However, being that they are both in Alaska and share many problems while playing in different Division I leagues (UAA in the WCHA, UAF in the CCHA), the two also have an everlasting bond.
Nowhere is that bond more evident than the always-interesting UAA Hockey Fan Blog. The guy who runs it, Donald Dunlop, is a pretty neat guy. Had a chance to meet him (finally!) last year when UMD played in Anchorage.
He has posted a few times on the prospects of UAF (officially, they're called "Alaska") joining the WCHA as the 12th team. While the prospects seem dim, Donald isn't giving up hope. He posted at length Sunday about the situation.
Let's start by saying I agree that Minnesota, Wisconsin, and North Dakota generally put more butts into seats than any other league opponent. However, "winning" always wins out, so to speak. UMD, for example, might always fill their building when they play the Gophers, Badgers, or Sioux, but if they put a winning product on the ice, they'll fill it when they play Colorado College, too.
I still believe the bottom line is the primary vote maker in this situation. So let's look at the split from the Final Five pie first. Those revenues are spread between 10 teams today. In the future they'll be spread between 12 teams. I don't have the figures unfortunately. so I'll just plug in an arbitrary number that is easy to divide in my head. So for example; if we assume that it's a million dollars. A ten team split obviously equals $100K each; a 12 team split equals $8333.33.Obviously, Donald meant $83,333.33 at the end, so we'll assume and move on.
If the bottom line were the only deciding factor, it's unlikely the league would expand at all. The Final Five is their primary revenue-making machine. Why mess with the format by adding an extra game that likely won't be well-attended (tickets certainly won't be pricey for it)? You're likely not going to make enough money from that game to recover the difference in splitting the pie 12 ways instead of ten.
Reality is that the bottom line is a factor, but it's not the only factor, and while it may matter for some schools more than others, it's far from the most important thing for everyone who gets a vote on this.
The next thing to consider is any potential revenue increases that would offset those losses. Playing a hockey game against the host team in Alaska provides an exemption for the visiting team against their maximum limit of 34 regular season games. This means that such visiting teams can host an additional home game. As it stands, 7 WCHA teams each season receive 2 exemptions each year. With UAF in the league all the other WCHA teams would be able to receive the 2 exemptions each year.I am unsure of any limit attached to Alaska travel. However, there are problems with the logic here.
Not every team will receive the "benefit" of two trips to Alaska in a season. After all, the only tangible benefit for the hockey team is the ability to play two extra non-conference games, presumably at home. However, with every team in the CCHA losing their Alaska exemption, and Atlantic Hockey expanding to 12 teams, it's only going to become more difficult to find non-conference games.
With demand lower for these opponents, the ones that exist can up the ante, requiring return visits in order for a contract to be done.
It's just not an automatic that every team in the league that gets the two extra games is going to fill them desirably.
And, no, I don't see WCHA teams scheduling each other for non-conference games, outside of the occasional special event (Hall of Fame Game, outdoor game, etc.).
Time to travel? DU and CC would face an 8+ hour bus ride to Omaha. Flying time from Denver to Fairbanks? Less than 7 hours. If DU and CC wanted to fly to Omaha; will UNO pay for 25 of their tickets? Similar story for the Gophers and Bucky. 380/370 miles to Omaha. 6 hours on a bus? Or 7 hours in an airplane? Duluth? 529 miles. 8+ hours on a bus for them. It seems to be almost a push. Though it is easier to get on and off a bus with your gear than it is with all the airport rig-a-ma-roll that you have to go through. Travel to either place certainly has it's downside. But no doubt, for a majority of WCHA schools UNO is objectively a more convenient destination. I could argue otherwise subjectively ... but I won't.Under no circumstances have I ever seen a situation where flying was preferable to bussing. As Donald mentions, there is a lot of "rig-a-ma-roll" that you have to go through when flying. That's not even the half of it.
The six-hour flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage is a grueling trip, even for a broadcaster. It can take quite a toll on an athlete. Asking them to either stay there an extra week (so they can play UAF while they're up there) or go back later in the season is probably asking more than you should.
There's a reason that league coaches have long debated the best way to handle the Alaska trip, and some still haven't totally figured out the most effective way to get their kids ready to play.
So if it's a choice between adding a school that will increase your bottom line significantly or adding a school that is a little easier to get to ... UAF is clearly the better choice. The relative inconvenience is not significant compared to the potential revenue. $200,000+ (or so) year to offset the $25,000 (or so) loss of going to 12 teams? I think the expansion decision at each WCHA institution would take that number into account. One choice is expand and lose 25K a year or expand and make 180K+ a year ... come on. It's got to be a "slam dunk" eh, Ciskie? That pays for 2 assistant coaches. Or a skating treadmill. Or an upgraded weight room. Or on and on and on ...There is a flaw in this logic, Donald.
Is there potential for more revenue if the WCHA adds UAF? Yes. However, there is a chance that teams could struggle to schedule their two extra games. There's also the chance other Division I leagues could whine to the NCAA about WCHA teams getting all the exemptions.
Oh, and there's the undeniable fact that Nebraska-Omaha holds much more upside as a revenue-producing school in the league. After all, Omaha is a city of over 400,000, while Fairbanks currently contains less than ten percent of that total.
If the league is concerned about making money, they're much better off with Omaha as a potential host for a playoff series than Fairbanks.
Not only that, but UNO just picked up one of the top coaches in WCHA history in Dean Blais. Don't think for one second that his decision won't factor into the perception of UNO as a viable WCHA team.
Bottom line is that I'd love to have a ready-made excuse to visit Fairbanks. I think they'd make a nice addition to the WCHA.
I don't think it has a snowball's chance in hell of happening at this point. The only shot UAF has is that UNO gets a nasty case of cold feet and stays put. If that happens, the WCHA will gladly accept UAF and its mix of benefits and headaches.
After all, no candidate is perfect (certainly, one with a history of playing games in a half-empty building isn't perfect). No one in this bunch (Bemidji, UNO, or UAF) can claim they are.
There are benefits and burdens to having two Alaska teams in one league.
Based on what I've heard, the WCHA has chosen UNO. If UNO chooses them, everything will fall into place from there. However, I do believe UAF has a good case. It's not a slam-dunk (neither is UNO at this point, as the school is still coy about their desire to join in the first place), but it's a good case.
Before summer is out, we should have our answer.