Wednesday, July 20, 2011

College Hockey Not Done Changing

I said it on Twitter last week, and I'll say it again now.

This is the craziest offseason in college hockey history.

Nuts. Bizonkers. Whatever word you want to use.

The sport is undergoing massive change to its landscape, with the recent announcements of the Big Ten and NCHC forming, combined with the impending move of at least Northern Michigan to the WCHA.

Now, it's the CCHA's turn to make a move to guarantee its survival as a league -- which is the best-case scenario for the sport.

College Hockey News reports that the first step towards that reality is set to happen.

CCHA officials will meet within the next two weeks with representatives of four Atlantic Hockey schools about a potential change in conferences in 2013-14.

Robert Morris, Niagara, Mercyhurst and Canisius are all actively exploring the possibility of switching from Atlantic Hockey to the CCHA. It is believed that the four would leave as a group, or not at all, though that is not set in stone.

All four schools have previously expressed interest in playing with 18 scholarships, the maximum allowed in Division I men's hockey. Atlantic Hockey, however, restricts its members to awarding 12 scholarships. A recent vote to increase that to 13 did not pass.

While this is a good thing for college hockey, Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio isn't terribly happy about the development.

Actually, he's pissed.

"It's great we added a 59th program, but as I've been saying all along, what is the fallout?" DeGregorio said. "If we end up losing two to three programs, or destroying some good leagues, then we haven't done what's good for college hockey. It's funny, but when Robert Morris and Niagara were looking for a place to go, everyone called me and said, 'Bob, you gotta do a good thing for hockey.' Where is that now? Everyone is doing what's best for them and to hell with everyone else."

So, it's only a good thing for college hockey if it's good for Atlantic Hockey. Got it.

In all seriousness, I understand DeGregorio's frustrations. But the "every man for himself" ship sailed months ago, when Terry Pegula's donation to start the Penn State program started a chain reaction that led us to this moment. There's no pulling some rope to get the boat back in port now. It's gone.

(Actually, the argument could be made that this ship sailed the moment the CCHA decided not to take Alabama-Huntsville, because the world hasn't been the same since. But we'll stick with the Penn State program forming, because that's really what started things.)

We can either 1) lament the fact that a sport where commissioners and ADs were known for doing unselfish things to help the common good has gone all WWE Royal Rumble on the world, or 2) deal with the reality and do what can be done to preserve the programs that exist, many of which have great tradition and shouldn't be forced to go the way of the dodo bird because Bob DeGregorio doesn't want his league to lose any teams.

The sport will survive, and the teams that are playing it are committed to making it work. Even programs like Ferris State and Lake Superior State, which fall under the banner of "We should be at least a little worried about their futures," are being proactive and making sure they are out front in helping determine the CCHA's future.

It doesn't appear terribly likely that the WCHA and CCHA will merge at this point, as the CCHA appears focused on keeping a league together on its own.

As noted by CHN, the four Atlantic Hockey teams that could be moving aren't interested in moving if Alaska (Alaska-Fairbanks, as it's more commonly known) is still in the league.

Does that open the door for Alabama-Huntsville to also join the CCHA? (Doubtful.)

Does it open the door for Minnesota State-Moorhead to join UA(F) and make the WCHA eight teams?

Yeah, the landscape is still changing. Hopefully, it doesn't get any smaller while it continues to mold itself.


Mike Machnik said...

Bruce, I'm not sure this is very fair...if you know Bob at all you know he's always been one of those guys in the sport who has been all about the good of the game and doing what he could to help out programs that needed it. It's understandable that he would be a little upset at what he's been seeing.

Bruce Ciskie said...

Like I said, I get his frustration. But we're too far into the voyage to complain that we're on the boat. :)