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March 3, 2007 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Mass. Trustees Need Reality Check

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Far be it from me to spend the state of Massachusetts' money. If the Board of Trustees of the state university system in Massachusetts decides it can't support two Division I hockey programs any longer — as it suggested last week — what are we going to do?

The problem is, the idea recently floated — to move Lowell out of Hockey East, out of D-I, or drop hockey altogether — reeks of political propaganda, aimed at pumping up Amherst as the flagship campus. This would be to the detriment, of course, of the four other campuses — of which Lowell is the only one with Division I athletics of any kind.

It's an idea without forethought to the unique nature of hockey, athletics, and Lowell's place in it. A decision like this cannot, and should not, be made in a political vacuum.

For some insight, note that Stephen Tocco, chair of the UMass Board of Trustees, was controversially appointed last September by Governor Mitt Romney, promoted from Chair of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. It was controversial because he was appointed chair with no prior experience on the Board, and he replaced a chair who had just recently been re-elected to the spot.

For years, Tocco has noted in speeches that he believes more emphasis should be made on Amherst as the "flagship" campus. And he falls in line with Romney's charge to make Amherst a premiere national institution of higher learning.

Why this must came at the expense of Lowell's hockey program is anyone's guess.

Most telling was Tocco's comment Thursday that asserted it would be easier for Lowell to win a national championship — and thus get the locals really excited — if it competed in a lesser conference, such as Atlantic Hockey.

Someone give this guy some smelling salts and inform him that, eventually, Atlantic Hockey teams get to the NCAAs against those other bigger schools. So good luck winning a national title with that route.

This guy clearly lacks the slightest idea of what he's talking about. Is this the guy you want in charge of making this decision?

Remember the controversial NCAA legislation that nearly wiped out long-standing college hockey programs like Clarkson, RPI, St. Lawrence and Colorado College? You like to think, like then, that it will sink in to everyone just how non-sensical and unnecessary this is.

It's like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In particular, this comes at a time when college hockey is already facing a crossroads. College Hockey America — if not the teams in it — are on the verge of extinction. Losing programs at this point is already a very real possibility.

Then comes this news and it hits you like a kick in the teeth.

Of course, any time cutbacks are considered, the aggrieved party and its sympathizers are always going to come out of the woodwork with cries of unfairness.

But this is a case that really does scream out at you on merit.

It's preaching to the converted to explain to college hockey fans (our audience here at CHN, obviously) the relative merits of the Mass.-Lowell vs. Mass.-Amherst (the main campus).

But Lowell is losing $670,000 per year, and Amherst is loing over $1.1 million on the hockey program. Sports programs lose money, that's what they do. But they also give opportunities to lots of people, they rally communities, and they provide tremendous promotion of your school.

This is bad timing, too, considering that today, Massachusetts will be playing for its first-ever home-ice spot in the Hockey East playoffs, while Lowell plays out the string. And here we are forced into a situation of having to pump up Lowell and knock the Minutemen.

We don't want to do that.

But in context here, it's necessary to point out that, historically, Lowell has been a better program. It has more wins, more NCAA appearances, more Hockey East final four appearances, and more NHL players than Amherst.

Some of the concerns have merit. Can Lowell compete long term in Hockey East? It depends on what you mean by compete. Yes, Lowell has a disadvantageous building situation, and the program doesn't draw well. Yes, it has less resources than the bigger schools, and in the current NCAA landscape, it's harder and harder every year for the little guy to keep up (see: ECAC, Lake Superior State, etc...).

But who's to say that Lowell has to be a perennial Hockey East power in order to be worthy of keeping its spot?

It's time for a reality check.

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