Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Around the Dial: Huntsville Rejected

Tuesday was not a stirring day for college hockey. With the news that Alabama-Huntsville's application for membership to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association had been rejected, fans were left wondering why, as well as wondering what will happen to the Huntsville program.

For sure, it's a controversial decision. It's one that is possibly made worse by the CCHA's incomprehensible decision to hide the vote count, thus denying fans and media a chance to find out (and question) the schools who came out against UAH.

(To be fair, CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos did cite facilities and transportation concerns. Of course, this is the same conference that willingly accepted Alaska-Fairbanks as a member to a league that (at the time) sported Nebraska-Omaha as its westernmost team. It's hard to imagine transportation could be a serious problem. And it's also difficult to vision Huntsville's near-7,000 seat rink as being hugely inferior to facilities at Bowling Green, Western Michigan, and Ferris State, among others.)

Anyway, let's go around the dial, searching for takes and thoughts on the CCHA's decision and UAH's future.

Mark McCarter, Huntsville Times

Trying to exist as an independent is like living off nuts and berries in the woods. It means a travel-heavy schedule and recruiting difficulties.

OK, maybe it didn't make sense that a Southern university would have an ice hockey team anyway. In a time of tight budgets in education, it doesn't seem to make fiscal sense, considering the travel and the equipment expenses.

But why does everything have to make sense?

Hockey has been something truly unique for UAH, and for our city. It's been another valuable entertainment alternative, a source of pride for the school, it's launched some players to the National Hockey League and an integral part of a vibrant hockey community.

Chris Dilks, Western College Hockey

I honestly can't understand why they would do that. The move effectively kills hockey at Huntsville and leaves the CCHA at an uneven 11 teams--unless the CCHA has a feeling they'll be losing another team soon. Even still, with college hockey struggling to expand, it seems awfully foolish to let an existing program just fade away. Hopefully there is more to this story and it has a better ending.

Danny Martin, Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska)

(Alaska Fairbanks AD Forrest) Karr said a lot of criteria were discussed Tuesday about Alabama-Huntsville’s application. He and other council members visited Huntsville earlier this summer, particularly the UAH campus and the Chargers’ home arena.

“Some people had concerns about a lack of commitment, a firm agreement with the facility down there and low attendance in recent years,” Karr said by cell phone during a layover at Detroit Metro Airport. The council meeting took place in nearby Dearborn, Mich.

Alabama-Huntsville averaged 2,688 fans in 10 home games last season in the Von Braun Center, which seats 6,602 for hockey.

The other concerns, Karr said, included “the institution not being in a major recruiting market, the general economic climate across the country and the student-athlete welfare (of other CCHA schools) because of missed class time due to long bus trips.”

He also said, “I hope this is not a death sentence for them, and I hope this is not the end of their program. The last thing anyone wants to see is the loss of any Division I college hockey program.”

Budd McLaughlin, Huntsville Times

"We are certainly disappointed in the decision and feel like our program has a lot to offer to any league," said UAH director of athletics Jim Harris. "We are going to look at other options that are available to us and then move forward."

Harris said the decision will not affect the upcoming season, which is the team's 25th year as a varsity sport. It will also be the final year of College Hockey America, which UAH helped found in 1999. Three other remaining members of the CHA - Bemidji State, Niagara and Robert Morris - have all been admitted to other conferences.

"Many people have put a lot of work into trying to make this happen; from all of the Chargers past and present through to Dr. Williams and the leaders in the city of Huntsville," said head coach Danton Cole, who is in Slovakia as an assistant coach with the U.S. Under 18 Select Team. "I do not know what the future holds for the program, but we will be looking at our options and move forward in the best interest of the University."

The CCHA's stance just doesn't make sense. The 2,688 fans per game UAH averaged in ten dates equals more than four of the 12 teams currently in the CCHA. While schools like Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Lake Superior State, and Ferris State have the inherent advantage of being able to host the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Notre Dame virtually every season, UAH drew more per game with home dates against Bemidji State (2), Niagara (4), and Robert Morris (4). The Chargers drew 2,795 for an exhibition game against Tennessee's club team.

But, yeah, they can't draw flies down there.

It's fantastic that Karr cited long bus trips. Yeah, because CCHA teams take the bus to Fairbanks. WCHA teams usually take at least two plane trips per season, and it doesn't seem to kill anyone. It's not like Huntsville is a seven-hour flight away. Instead, Huntsville's airport can be reached quite easily, with nonstop flights going there from both Detroit and Chicago daily.

Quite simply, the CCHA took the easy way out. For college hockey fans, it's a horrible disappointment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Also, it has been mentioned over on USCHO that UAH also threw a "travel subsidy" onto the table to strengthen their bid to the CCHA. Rumor has it that it was $10,000 for a weekend.