by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Last May, after the ECAC athletic directors announced the league was officially severing ties with the main ECAC office and forming, in essence, an independent hockey league, Steve Hagwell was named the acting commissioner.
In an article called "Seize the Momentum," we applauded the move, but implored the ECAC not to sit still, and take the next steps.
Now, with Hagwell recently given a new three-year contract and the permanent commissioner title, we take a look back at our 10 suggestions from last May, and see how far the ECAC has come. (New comments indented and italicized.)
(Last May's) Top 10 Suggestions For the New and Improved ECAC
- 10. Merchandising. It's time to take advantage of the Internet to market league merchandise and apparel. Something like what Hockey East does with its Hockey East Shop is an easy step with great rewards. And it should coincide with an increased merchandising presence in Albany. Apparel worn is free advertising.
- 9. "Acting" Commissioner. Let's lose the "acting" designation from the front of Steve Hagwell's title. We all know his term is for one year, and we know he's under the microscope. Do we need to minimize his role? It sends an unnecessary message. Everyone doing their jobs is "acting" in their role. Unless there's someone else already specifically waiting in the wings, remove "acting."
- 8. Maximize your human resources. There are numerous talented people around who were either shunned by the previous admininstration, or removed themselves because they were sick of dealing with it, or both. These are people who have shown a willingness to help the league and are willing to do so largely out of the goodness of their own heart. People who believe in the league and its schools and its coaches and what it all stands for, and who want to help. People who just love the sport. We know a little bit about having to maximize human resources. Keep these people happy. Find for them something to do.
- 7. New Logo. Divorce the logo from the same style used by other sports in the ECAC. Back to the idea of maximizing resources, why not host a contest, asking art students at league member schools to submit their concepts for a new league logo? The winner gets some sort of prize, like lifelong season tickets at the arena of their choice.
- 6. Re-establish ties with Lake Placid. It's unlikely the ECAC tournament is going back to Lake Placid any time soon. But figure out a way to do something up there every year — maybe an ECAC Holiday Festival. There are good people up there who never wanted you to leave. The ECAC needs to emphasize the places where it is unique, and there is no more unique and special place in hockey than Lake Placid, and it falls in ECAC territory.
- 5. Re-establish ties with sponsors. Who knows how many corporate partners were turned off by the way the ECAC did business in recent years. Even corporations give second chances.
- 4. Web Site. This has been an issue in the past, and the ECAC made some improvements over the years in this regard. But the site still has plenty of room to get it to the kind of level it can be. Things like this are of vital importance when giving recruits first impressions about your league.
- 3. Don't Expect Miracles. Everyone is pleased that the structural change in the ECAC has freed the league to be the best it can be. But Steve Hagwell will not be able to part the Charles River, or turn melted ice into wine. Let's not expect him to. What we can expect, however, is an attentive leader who will organize his entire efforts towards helping the league in any way possible, and someone who, through the respect he has earned, will build relationships instead of tearing them down.
- 2. Officiating. Fans, coaches, everyone love to harp on officiating. It's an easy target — one that can't really fight back. Most of the criticism can be dismissed as partisanship, or heat-of-the-battle complaining. Which is not to say there isn't always room for improvement. But in the ECAC, there probably needs to be something a little more deep and complicated than just room for improvement. It might be a good time for a pow-wow of athletic directors, coaches, referees, league officials and even players — to figure out what exactly the league wants from its officials. A little soul searching. Does the ECAC want to get known as a slog-it-out league where anything goes? Or is that just a faulty perception anyway? Officials will do a better job with a specific mandate.
- 1. Television. Hagwell's first order of business, if it hasn't been already (CSTV's people were in Naples), is to shore up the relationship with CSTV. Other regional sports networks aren't knocking down the ECAC's door, but CSTV is happy to be a willing partner with all of college hockey. The ECAC also has the opportunity to get its championship weekend treated like the Super Bowl. You can't let these kinds of opportunities be passed over in favor of saving a couple bucks. And you certainly can't afford to alienate these kinds of partners through flat out neglect.
- 0. Get Out of Centerville. This wasn't going to be on the list, but since the original announcement was made, it's become apparent that this must happen soon, if the wheels haven't been put in motion already. Forget the flowery language from Phil Buttafuoco in the ECAC press release when the announcement was made, he was peeved to say the least when he got word in Naples that he was out. At that point, he had two options: Be a good soldier, and lend a hand to the hockey league if a situation arose where he could be helpful; or ignore them. He actually chose worse than the latter, he decided to be obstructionist. The sooner the hockey league sets up shop in Albany — or somewhere like that — the better.
The ECAC has done exactly that, signing on with SportsDesgins, the same company that handles the Hockey East Shop, to be the official online licensee.
Perhaps it took a little longer than necessary, but this is now done. Ken Ralph, Rensselaer's athletic director and head of the search committee to find a permanent commissioner, reported to his colleagues earlier this year and told them he didn't think there was any need to search for anyone; they already had their man.
Suffice to say ... Done.
The only thing on this list with no movement on.
Still unsure if the tournament will ever return to Lake Placid, but the league's relationship with the Olympic Regional Development Authority up there is repaired.
Sponsorship is never an easy game, but the momentum is to the plus side.
Still more to do, but things have come a long way here.
All of college hockey took care of this, or at least is trying, and the ECAC's new supervisor of officials has been active.
It has a ways to go before being treated like the Super Bowl, even relatively. But the relationship has been restored, and a lot of cooperation and effort went into getting this year's ECAC tournament games on the air.
The league is set up in Albany. Done.
With this, it should be abundantly clear why the ECAC locked up Hagwell for three years, and why the feeling in Albany this past weekend is the best it's been in a long time.