Monday, June 15, 2009


Normally, we hear about the heated on-ice rivalry between Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks. It's a really good one, and the atmosphere in both cities is awesome when the two play each other.

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.


Runninwiththedogs said...

We filled the arena for Mankato and DU this year. Not sure of any other sellouts because I had tix in advance.

Bruce Ciskie said...

As far as I know, those were the only two home sellouts for UMD last year.

Goon said...

I was under the impression that the UND and UMD games were sold out as well?

Runninwiththedogs said...

Saturday was close, but no. C'mon, Goon, it was deer hunting weekend!

Goon said...

Are you sure about that? I watched the games from my living room and I don't remember hunting that day.
Must have been working. Any how, We get the Bulldogs four times this season.

Bruce Ciskie said...

Trust me, Goon. The UND games didn't sell out, and as RWD said, they were over hunting weekend (the last weekend of hunting season, actually).

The Saturday game drew over 5K, but it was just short of a sellout.

Goon said...

In pursuit of Bambi. :) That was a good series and a shame it wasn't sold out. I can't wait to see the new UMD barn.

Donald Dunlop said...

Yes, it might very well benefit UNO more than it would benefit UAF to switch to the WCHA. I'm not addressing those things. I'm making the noise I'm making to do whatever I can to help UAF get some "due consideration". They deserve to make a presentation and have a vote taken if they decide they want in.

But of course those of you that hate America wouldn't want that.

Donald Dunlop said...

Oh yeah ... I forgot to address your travel concerns:

There is a team in the WCHA that flies a minimum of at least 6 hours to every home game. If as you say,

"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.

then isn't UAA doing something more than you should ask? Are you concerned that the "grueling" nature of the travel would mean the traveling team might not perform up to snuff?

Hmmm ... so it's ok if UAA sucks up all that travel without complaining but if ANY other WCHA team had to make two trips then it isn't fair? Is that really what you are saying? It's ok for UAA to get fucked on travel since nobody else has to do it. They're way the hell up there and not really part of the U.S. so fuck them?

Yeah ... I'd like to see another WCHA team or two have to make two trips to Alaska every season. It would be one small step to leveling the field. Something nobody down there apparently is interested in.

Bruce Ciskie said...

The problem, Donald, is that UAA has no place complaining about an uneven playing field when they chose to join this league.

And, no, I don't think it's fair that there will be some teams making two trips to Alaska in a season while others potentially could avoid making any at all.

But that wasn't really my point.

My point was that teams who are voting on expansion are probably going to see a trip to Omaha as more desirable than one to Fairbanks. I don't pretend to know everything about how the voters will think through their decisions, but I do believe this will be a factor in their philosophies.

Donald Dunlop said...

UAA doesn't complain about it. They never have and likely never will. I did the complaining in order to display that other WCHA members are pussies.

I wouldn't debate that folks voting will think that UNO is more convenient. It is more convenient. However, the burden of travel to Alaska is often overstated.

Ultimately, UNO may get the votes. But that time isn't here. The WCHA wanted more applicants and now they've got another one. If they set it aside without due consideration that would be fucked up. If UAF decides they want in ... they should be allowed to make their case. UNO hasn't even said they want in yet.

Most of my arguments on this subject have been directed at the "its a done deal" folks. It isn't.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Donald. Just because Alaska is up north, does not make it some far-away, other land. Alaska is part of the 'United States'. If your not sure, check it out on a map sometime. Alaska has the same damn rights to a hockey league that UMD does. Either way, UAA is going to totally own UMD in 2009-10. Get ready for it.

Bruce Ciskie said...


Having made the Alaska trip many times, and knowing people who have made it even more often (I have family in Anchorage and they make a trip south virtually every year), I can tell you that while it's not as tough as it used to be, it's still a very tough trip to make with a hockey team.

That said, I loved making that trip, and can't wait to make another trek up there to visit family and sightsee.

Bubba said...

Dunlop is a narcisstic loser obsessed with self-importance presuming to be the "spokesman" for UAA hockey fans. Good thing nobody takes him too seriously. He must have too much time on his hands, judging by his endless pontificating on his blog.

Anonymous said...

Donald is a legend in his own mind. Just more proof that anyone can get a press pass.