A story that has been festering for a long time finally has a conclusion.
It's been a few years now since a fledgling hockey conference called College Hockey America began to sputter. While the league was able to boast an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, there was little appeal to joining the league, as its large geographic boundaries led to teams running up ridiculous expenses for travel.
As the league of now four teams prepares for its final curtain call in the spring of 2010, it's good to know that three of those four teams have landed in new conferences.
Niagara and Robert Morris had already joined the Atlantic Hockey Association. Bemidji State now has its home.
The Beavers will join an expanded 12-team Western Collegiate Hockey Association beginning in the 2010 season, according to veteran Duluth News Tribune writer Kevin Pates, who has never been known for posting blind speculation, even on his blog.
Pates says it will be announced Friday that Nebraska-Omaha will join Bemidji State in the WCHA.
While there were some hoping Alaska-Fairbanks (or "Alaska", if you will) would get a good look from the WCHA, it appeared that UNO was the target for a long time. The installation of athletic director Trev Alberts, who immediately started talking about the need for UNO to maximize the revenue potential of its men's hockey program, seemed to really get the ball rolling in this direction. Alberts admitted from the start that he was not a hockey guy, but it looked like he had a good understanding of the potential that comes along with WCHA membership.
While this marriage is, above all, a business arrangement, it's also a move that is in the best interest of college hockey. Assuming Alabama-Huntsville gains admission into the CCHA to put that league back to 12 teams (while you can set up a conference schedule for an 11-team league, it's going to be a mess, so the CCHA getting to 12 teams seems like a foregone conclusion), Division I will keep its 58 teams.
The one thing that is damaged severely is the growth potential for Division I hockey. Only having five leagues, and having four of those five leagues at 12 teams each, means that anyone who wants to come in will have to slave away as an independent, probably for a long time. That's not desirable when every other program in the country can dangle their conference's autobid as a carrot to keep kids away from the indies.
That said, this is a win for the WCHA, and a win for college hockey. Even more than that, it's a win for Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha.