Thursday, January 17, 2013

Alabama-Huntsville Program Saved With Membership to WCHA

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Greetings from the home of National Collegiate Hockey Conference headquarters, where news from the league UMD and Colorado College are leaving after this season is making waves throughout college hockey.

I'll have more on the UMD-CC series later, and you can check here Friday for lines and throughout the weekend for notes and things.

Thursday, the WCHA announced it has granted full membership to the University of Alabama-Huntsville.

Here is the league's press release.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s membership voted today (January 17) to admit the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) as a full-time men’s conference member. The vote of approval was taken after UAH submitted an application for membership and made a formal presentation to a WCHA group of member-team Presidents and Athletic Directors at a meeting held in conjunction with the NCAA Convention in Dallas, Tex.
The addition of University of Alabama in Huntsville into college hockey’s most historic and successful conference will bring future men’s league membership to 10 teams. Their membership will be effective as soon as 2013-14.

WCHA men’s membership in 2013-14 currently consists of University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Bemidji State University, Bowling Green State University, Ferris State University, Lake Superior State University, Michigan Technological University, Minnesota State University, Mankato and Northern Michigan University.

In issuing a joint statement on behalf of the Association, Dr. Richard Davenport, President of Minnesota State University, Mankato and Chair of the WCHA President’s Group, and Bruce McLeod, Commissioner of the WCHA, said “The WCHA is delighted to have reached in principle an agreement to officially welcome University of Alabama in Huntsville into the Association family as a full-time men’s member. This is a significant day for the Chargers, the community of Huntsville, the conference itself, and college hockey in general. Growing the game and assisting developing programs however possible has always been a charge of the WCHA and this is another positive evolution in our history.

“Each of our member institutions are 100% committed to keeping the WCHA among the premier conferences in all of collegiate athletics and our respective ice hockey programs both strong and vibrant. The University of Alabama in Huntsville is a dynamic, top-quality institution with an excellent academic and athletic reputation and without question the Chargers are going to be a great fit and a successful, contributing member.

“Just as the entire UAH campus and the Huntsville community are exhilarated to now have a welcoming home for their men’s hockey program, the WCHA is also extremely proud and gratified to be providing that home.”

Said University of Alabama in Huntsville President Robert Altenkirch, “We’re pleased that our ice hockey team is going to have the opportunity to compete and grow in a NCAA Division 1 conference. We believe that our affiliation with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be a tremendous boost to our recruiting, scheduling and our ability to be competitive on the ice.

“We want to thank the WCHA and its member institutions for their confidence in allowing us to be a part of their conference. Their affirmative vote will invigorate our ability to maintain our great hockey tradition.”

UAH Director of Athletics Dr. E.J. Brophy said, “All athletic programs experience special defining moments, and our hockey program’s acceptance today into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is certainly one of those moments. The WCHA is a preeminent hockey conference in America, and I know that our student-athletes, coaches, fans, friends, alums and the people of Huntsville are ecstatic and proud of this giant step for our ice hockey program.

“The last time we were in a conference, we won the conference tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament, which will be our immediate and ambitious goal when we begin play in the WCHA. It is a banner day for the Chargers.”

This is great news for UAH. It's a program that almost died once, and has been rejected multiple times by conferences. UAH made a serious bid to join the CCHA a few years ago, but the league rejected the program, even knowing it was on the verge of losing its conference, and despite the fact that Huntsville isn't exactly a million miles away from the "epicenter" of what the CCHA once was.

The WCHA did a good thing when it took Bemidji State, and it's doing a good thing here. There is upside with the UAH program, which outdrew CCHA teams while a member of the CHA, despite a ten-game home schedule with absolutely no marquee opponents.

The move makes the WCHA a ten-team league, which removes a bit of a burden on the scheduler (you don't have to have a team on bye every week if you don't want to). If I were the league, I'd shoot for a 24 game conference schedule, allowing teams to schedule out of conference games, and making sure that not everyone has to go to Alaska twice in a season. At 26 games, a team would play four opponents four times (home and away series) each. The other five teams would be faced either at home or on the road. It leaves an uneven number of home games, though, and is probably undesirable for that reason.

24 games would be home and away series against three opponents, and either a home or away series against the other six. Teams would rarely -- if ever -- have to go to Alaska twice in this format, depending on how you laid it out.

The WCHA has options here, and thanks to the WCHA, Huntsville's hockey program has a future. A tip of the cap to all involved for getting this done.

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