Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Michigan State Turns Heads With Hockey Hire

Michigan State probably stunned a few people with the announcement Wednesday that CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos was taking over as the new head coach.

It would be easy enough for Anastos to explain his decision by simply noting that he hasn't coached in 20 years or so and just wanted to get back into the game again. He did just that when chatting with Adam Wodon of College Hockey News.

CHN: If you listen to the chatter out there, some people are questioning you for getting off a sinking ship; and wondering if you were working for the CCHA against the Big Ten while talking to Michigan State at the same time. Would you like to put that to rest.

Anastos: That would be absolutely not true. From the minute I received the call from Mark Hollis (on Sunday), I made contact to (the CCHA person) I directly report (to, Bowling Green AD) Greg Christopher. I was in constant communication with him. This Big Ten thing, I've been involved with for months. I've spoken to the Big Ten, I've made petitions to the Big Ten to essentially bring Penn State into our league.

We were all preparing for it (the Big Ten announcement). Being on the other end, we essentially came to a conclusion some time ago what the outcome would be. Now, what's the next step? My doing this has zero to do with the Big Ten. If the Big Ten change didn't happen, I'd still be right here.

Of course, the timing of the decision doesn't allow him to just blow it off.

The CCHA was crippled by Monday's announcement that Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State would depart to join the Big Ten.

(Well, let's be honest. Until Mark Osiecki gets a bit more time to do his thing in Columbus, the CCHA wasn't affected at all by tOSU leaving. But it really sucks for them that Osiecki is not likely to leave that program among the league's mediocre for long, and they also have to deal with losing Michigan and Michigan State.)

As someone pointed out to me Wednesday, and I completely agree, the CCHA has to move quickly here on two fronts. First off, they have to find someone to replace Anastos. The best candidate for that might have been former Michigan State coach Rick Comley, but his -- alleged? -- actions in Fairbanks during the CCHA playoffs might leave that up in the air a bit. You have to think that the league has a few names in mind, but if they were floored by this move, they might have been caught off-guard.

This becomes an important thing because the perception left among all in college hockey by Anastos' departure is not a good one. It's hard to shake the idea that Anastos sees the writing on the wall, and is perhaps escaping the ship before it inevitably sinks, leaving college hockey down again to five leagues that are contributing teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Someone needs to speak to what Anastos told Wodon. Make it abundantly clear that the CCHA is not the sinking ship this move -- a longtime college hockey administrator taking a coaching job practically out of nowhere -- makes it appear to be.

And if something bad happens to the CCHA, what happens to their top two remaining programs, Notre Dame and Miami? They're not folding, what with Miami having just opened a new rink a few years ago and the Irish about to follow. Should the CCHA be in trouble, would Hockey East and the WCHA be trying (or about to try) to land them?

The WCHA would be smart to try, if they're interested. There is no easy way to replace the clout Minnesota and Wisconsin bring a league, but if the WCHA could increase their geographic footprint and overall league profile by adding two hockey powerhouses, why not?

We're far too early in the process to decide on the fates of programs like Lake Superior State, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Bowling Green, and Western Michigan. For that matter, independent Alabama-Huntsville is still out there.

Wait, that's six teams.

Hmm ...

(I purposely didn't put Alaska in this group. I think the Nanooks are going to find a league if the CCHA disappears, but perhaps they can finally unite with state rival Alaska-Anchorage when they do.)

There are no easy answers to any of this, but after seeing all the changes that came to college football in the last couple years, and the pleothora of changes that were threatened or reported but didn't happen, one has to wonder what we could be on the verge of in college hockey.

It might not be earth-shattering, but it's change. Change isn't always well-received, even if it's for the greater good.

In this case, those changes can only be for the greater good if they don't involve the dissolution of programs. That means the CCHA must remain alive and well.

It also means Alabama-Huntsville has to find a league. The Chargers have a solid foundation of a hockey tradition, but it won't last with the program continuing on as an independent. That's simply not a formula for long-lasting success in today's college sports world, unless you're Notre Dame and BYU football.

And even those schools recognize that their other varsity sports need leagues.

No comments: