Of the four teams remaining in that conference, three have found new homes. Bemidji State will move to the WCHA starting in 2010, while Robert Morris and Niagara go to Atlantic Hockey.
Because Bemidji is bringing Nebraska-Omaha to the WCHA with them, conventional wisdom had it that the CCHA, Omaha's old league, would be looking to expand back to 12 teams. An 11-team conference creates some scheduling issues, and the tournament bracket (six teams play in first-round matchups, while five get first-round byes) can be cumbersome to explain to the casual fan.
A marriage between Alabama-Huntsville and the CCHA seemed like a possibility. While it would create some geographic nightmares, they couldn't possibly be worse than seven CCHA teams heading to Fairbanks every year, right?
Seems that the CCHA would rather have 11 teams than take Huntsville as a new member.
"The league completed its due diligence of the application for membership submitted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville with careful consideration and discussion of various issues," stated CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos.
"At this time we have chosen to maintain our membership at its current level." "The CCHA will remain focused on maintaining and strengthening our existing members to ensure the conference's continued success and long-term viability," Anastos added.
In other words, UAH isn't good enough for a league that should be actively seeking another team.
It's probably curtains for the UAH program very soon. There's little chance of a Division I team being able to sustain itself as the only independent in the land. They'd have to rely on bye weeks to get non-conference dates, and good luck getting anyone willing to play in Huntsville.
The program would be doomed to have no real shot at ever making the NCAA Tournament, and without that carrot to dangle in front of recruits, it would become almost impossible to get Division I-quality athletes to attend there.
This is not a good day for college hockey. There are only 58 programs currently up and running, so the loss of one should never be regarded as insignificant.
Only another league taking UAH, or the Chargers deciding they can make it as an independent, will save this from being a bad moment for the sport.
The other side of this story is that the CCHA has done something strictly for their own good. After years of the WCHA being ripped by select fans for only doing what was in its own best interests, it's nice to think that Bruce McLeod won't be thought of as the bad guy anymore.
It remains to be seen if the CCHA will try to find a 12th team, or if they're truly content to stay at 11.