Late last week Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald broke the news that five current WCHA schools (North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth) would be leaving the league to join up with Miami (OH) who would be leaving the CCHA to form a 'Super Conference' that would be set to start in 2013 when Minnesota and Wisconsin break off from the WCHA to join the newly formed Big Ten Hockey Conference. Notre Dame also has an invitation to join the league and according to the GF Herald Western Michigan will likely be invited if Notre Dame accepts to make it an 8 team league.
Over the weekend things got real in a hurry when the athletic departments from the six schools who are committed to the new conference released a joint statement about the future of their schools hockey programs. The three paragraph release featured a few interesting notes. They include:
-Schlossman has the six teams correct (Miami, North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota-Duluth)
-The Conference will start in 2013 when the Big Ten will also start.
-There will be a press conference on Wednesday, July 13th in Colorado Springs to answer questions about the newly formed conference that doesn't yet have a name.
-All teams will remain in their current conferences until leaving in 2013.
More on the conference shakeup including the reaction from the schools not invited to join the new 'Super League' after the jump.
The biggest concern over the new conference right now is what will happen with the teams who are being left out of the new conference. From the WCHA (Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, and Minnesota State) and from the CCHA (Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alaska, Lake Superior State, Bowling Green and possibly Western Michigan) have all been left behind.
I've seen some fans and beat writers from around the country assume that the new developments will cause some programs who are in financial trouble like Bowling Green to fold up their programs for good. Over the weekend I took a look at Bowling Green's attendance numbers last season. BG hosted 16 games at home, 8 against big schools (Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami, Ohio State) and 8 against small (Al-Huntsville, Ferris St, Lake St, and Northern). Ticket sales for the 8 big games came to 18,628..for the small 8: 17,271. 1,357 tickets isn't going to make or break a program. Bowling Green actually sold more tickets for the Lake State series than the Michigan series last season.
I sincerely believe that teams like Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech who will actually have a shot at making the NCAA tournament now are actually in a better position. What did their fans have to look forward to before? Getting their teeth kicked in every year? Tech fans went nuts when they finished in 6th place in the league a few years back, can you imagine if they actually made the NCAA tournament? Look what making the NCAA's and a run to the frozen four did to RIT. It was a huge bonus for their program and they got a new rink out of it. So I think the concerns about programs folding are severely being overblown at this point. Some of these programs attendance should actually increase with the possibility of them actually winning games and starting to make NCAA tournaments.
There has been a boatload of information out there on the new conference shakeup. Here is an overview of the reaction from some of the schools involved.
In an article written by Beth Bragg from the Anchorage Daily News, Alaska-Anchorage AD Steve Cobb said that the five remaining schools in the WCHA will meet in Minnesota on Thursday with WCHA administrators to discuss the future of the league.
Cobb also had an interesting quote basically saying the schools involved in the new conference went behind the other schools back to make this happen.
"At our meeting in April we voted to extend an invitation to Miami and Notre Dame," Cobb said, referring to a pair of CCHA teams. "That passed with 100 percent of the vote. Nobody said they were unhappy. We left the April meeting and basically some of them contacted Notre Dame and Miami and said, 'Don't take the WCHA invitation, we're going to invite you to join our super league.'
"I blame everybody for being less than honest with their own league members. It's a really sneaky back-door deal."
Eric Stromgren from the Bemidji Pioneer brought up an excellent point in his article about the changes. Stromgren said that he once asked a Bemidji recruit why he chose the school (they were still in the since disbanded CHA conference). The players response:
"At the end of the season it comes down to four teams, two games, two wins and the shortest route to the NCAA Tournament," he said.
Which was my point with schools like Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage right now. Currently they basically have no shot of winning a best of 3 series against one of the top teams in the WCHA, then winning three straight games in St. Paul against some of the best teams in the nation just to MAKE the NCAA tournament. With the new setup they will have a consistent chance in any season to make a run at the tournament.
Pretty standard stuff came out of the article by the Daily Mining Gazette the local newspaper that covers the Huskies in Houghton although they did speak with Michigan Tech Sports Information Director Wes Frahm.
"The landscape of college hockey is obviously undergoing some changes, but Michigan Tech is committed to being successful no matter who our opponents are," Frahm said.
Shane Frederick from the Mankato free press talked with Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman who doesn't understand the urgency of starting the new 'Super Conference.'
Busiman said the schools left out of the 'Super Conference' have been speaking regularly for weeks.
"We’ve talked three times over the last two weeks," Buisman said. "We’re sharing information and trying to stay informed. ... We’re not sitting back and not do anything. We’ve been taking this very seriously."
Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting wouldn't comment on the new conference.
"I don't involve myself with speculation."
*St. Cloud State
St. Cloud Times writer Mick Hatton talked with St. Cloud State University President Earl Potter III who made some laughable comments about St. Cloud's future. In the article Potter claims that the Huskies would not accept an invite to the new 'Super Conference' even if they had been invited (which they weren't).
"We expected to be in conversations about being in a new league," Potter said today "But as we looked at it ... we intended to say ‘no.’ " Potter said St. Cloud State officials reviewed balance sheets, attendance projections, the strength of rivalries, postseason opportunities and several other factors in deciding it didn’t want to be in the rumored new conference.
Potters comments are especially interesting because St. Cloud is a very logical choice to gain an invitation to the league should Notre Dame turn down an invite and the new league still want to push for an 8 team league. I don't think there is any way had St. Cloud been in the initial talks that they would have turned down an opportunity to join the league.
Northern isn't in the WCHA but I wanted to include this because it looks as if they could potentially join the WCHA to be the 6th team needed to gain an auto-bid for winning the conference tournament. Matt Wellens from the Mining Journal talked to Northern Michigan Les Wong who says the University will be aggressive in finding the best situation for the Wildcats.
"I think we are going to be much more aggressive in looking out for what Northern should do and really, what Notre Dame does from now on out probably doesn't count for us," Wong said. "We need to take care of Northern."
"We need to certainly look out for our own interests now at a more intense level," Wong said.
Wellens also talked to new CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch.
"Every school has told me they are committed to the CCHA, but they are also examining what is in the best interest of their hockey program, too," Pletsch said.
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