September 27, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Wilkinson's Warning

Wayne State Coach Knew This Day Was Coming if Changes Weren't Made

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The decision by Wayne State University to dissolve its men's hockey program will have vast repercussions throughout college hockey, though how broad and wide-reaching remains to be seen.

Months ago, before the decision was made, Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson discussed his team's application to enter the CCHA. He suggested at the time that the program could be in jeopardy if it didn't get acceptance from the CCHA.

It was hard to know whether this was a bluff, or legitimate. Obviously, in retrospect, it was not a bluff.

"If we don't move in a different direction, it could be flowers up," Wilkinson said at the time. "For our program to survive, we need a new direction. Yes, we're getting pressure from the administration and we're getting it from interests within the city. They're not coming out to see Huntsville. But when Ferris State comes in, there's more people in the stands."

Wilkinson was also well aware this his program's fate also had implications for his league, the CHA, which will no longer be viable with just four teams.

"I am worried about it," Wilkinson said. "I want to see new programs come in. There's talk of Syracuse. But they'd be similar to Wayne State. Why play in the CHA when it could play Colgate, Cornell, Clarkson — why go all around the country when they could travel within the state? So would the ECAC take them in? Wayne State has 34,000 students. If they're going to chop us off, what does that mean?

"I think it's going to happen (the CHA will disband). Again, Niagara needs to play against teams like Cornell, Colgate, Clarkson. Huntsville, if they joined the CCHA and had Michigan or Ohio State in their building, I think they would draw. They have a great opportunity to flourish if they can get people to their building. But you can't get programs with big names to come to their building. We've played Michigan State five times, all on the road."

There were times that college hockey leagues got together to help out the collective. But not this time.

"College hockey people sometimes become very provincial people," Wilkinson said. "If we need to help ourselves, you have to help everyone else.

"In 10 years, I think you'll see leagues that have developed into larger leagues cut back down. Maybe you'll see a West Coast league — Alaska with Washington, UCLA. Somewhere down the line — you see players from California in Division I — there'll be enough kids to service those teams. A lot of club teams are doing well."

And for all the talk about a potential Big Ten hockey league — further fueled by the start of a Big Ten TV network — Wilkinson said it would be a good thing, and it doesn't necessarily have to hurt the rest of the schools.

"I think there will be a Big Ten league. The WCHA will split, the CCHA will split. I've been telling the ECAC for the last six or seven years, get the Ivy League their own league. They can have six teams and an autobid. They don't see it.

"The Big Ten is not going to beat itself up playing itself too many times. Those teams will still play Ferris, Western will play Michigan, Bowling green will play Notre Dame."

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