What is the Showcase's Future?
by Gregg Paul/CHN Correspondent
When the College Hockey Showcase was instituted back in 1993, the theory was to rekindle the hockey rivalries of the four "Big Ten" hockey powers — rivalries that had been silenced since the Wolverines and Spartans abandoned the WCHA for the CCHA prior to the 1981-82 season.
Instead of the traditional win and advance formula that most holiday tournaments utilize, the Showcase would pit Minnesota and Wisconsin of the WCHA against Michigan and Michigan State of the CCHA. Only bragging rights for each conference, as well as a stronger opponent to improve a team's chances of earning a berth in the NCAA tournament, were at stake.
Initially the Showcase was designed to be played at rotating neutral sites to recreate the "tournament atmosphere" found in the other multi-team events. Housing all four teams and their fans in the same arena was the impetus to further add fuel to those rivalries.
However, after just four years, the Showcase was moved to campus sites due to complications in scheduling, increased travel expenses, and slightly waning attendance figures. The games are played at the WCHA venues in even numbered years, and the CCHA venues in odd numbered years.
"I like the Showcase, but I'd like to see them change the way it is done," said Spartans coach Rick Comley. "I'm in favor of a split Showcase where you play one game on the road and one at home with a day off in between would be the fairest scenario for all teams. We could make it so simple playing one at home and one on the road play Friday/Sunday or Thursday/Saturday, that's what I'd like to see."
There are few people who can deny that the actual games have been entertaining and worthy of the title of the College Hockey Showcase. The games have usually had NCAA tournament implications despite always being played during the Thanksgiving weekend.
There are a few schools of thought as to whether or not the Showcase has lived up to its lofty status. Has the event spurred the rivalries? Is it worth pursuing something bigger or better?
"It's not a current rivalry, but a traditional rivalry," said Michigan coach Red Berenson. "We only play them once a year."
Despite the teams only playing each other once per year and perhaps a meeting in the NCAA tournament, there are those who would like to see the Showcase evolve into an actual Big Ten tournament if not a formation of a Big Ten conference all together. The only drawback being that the only other Big Ten school that has a Division I hockey program is Ohio State.
Back when the Wolverines and Spartans were in the WCHA with the Gophers and Badgers, there was an actual Big Ten hockey champion crowned based on games played against each other, along with games against Ohio State, even though the Buckeyes were not a WCHA member.
Somehow the Big "Five" doesn't make sense for either a tournament or conference realignment.
"Well, that's a whole philosophical talk we could have," said Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves. "Long term plans, will there be a Big Ten League? Some people think so, some people don't. It's something that will take a long time to come to fruition."
Obviously there are fans and certain hockey people that would be in favor of somehow creating something more for the Big Ten schools. People have this notion that the member schools of the Big Ten should be united in every sport. Until each and every school creates a Division I hockey program, or there is realignment of the current hockey conferences, it is merely speculation.
The bottom line as to whether or not the Big Ten ever becomes a true hockey conference is as with everything else largely based on financial considerations. Along with Title IX ramifications for those schools not currently fielding Division 1 hockey programs, it seems to be a fantasy that may never become a reality.
One prominent figure in the hockey community thinks any talk of forming a Big Ten conference for hockey should be quickly laid to rest, because of the impact it would have on the teams that were left out.
"It would be the death of college hockey," said former Badger coach Jeff Sauer.
If that is the end result for all of college hockey, then bigger is not always better, and sometimes the status quo is better left alone.