Dynamics of Demise
Wayne State Coach: 'We're Not Dead Yet'
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Bill Wilkinson was playing golf with the president of Wayne State on Monday, and still didn't know anything about his program's impending demise.
By 1 p.m. Tuesday, he got the word. By Thursday, he was philosophical.
"If you don't support the program and get a building built on campus, (it's easy) to see the writing on the wall," Wilkinson said.
When Wilkinson helped start the program eight years ago, the school told him, start winning games, get a new building built, and get into the CCHA. Wayne State did win games, but the school was never able to get him a new building. And getting into the CCHA was a distant dream.
"I'm not feeling (bitterness)," Wilkinson said about the CCHA's reluctance to accept his program. "That's their decision to make. If I was in their shoes, I might do the same thing. ... (But) I couldn't even get Michigan to return phone calls to get a game. So it was frustrating."
The reality is, the last time the CCHA expanded, it did so with a team that was playing in front of sellout crowds, with huge local support — Nebraska-Omaha. So in this chicken-egg scenario, where Wayne State was hoping that acceptance to the league would help create interest at their school, the CCHA didn't agree.
Many schools, of course, did step up over the years to play Wayne State. But Michigan State would not play at the Warriors' home. Michigan would not play WSU at all.
So with resistance to get entry into the league, Wilkinson requested CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos to create a "scheduling alliance" that would at least help. Anastos began lobbying the coaches on the idea just this week, though it proved too late to help Wayne State. The school's board of governors, faced with a budgetary crisis that was derivative of the entire state's fiscal issues, slashed the budget in many area — and hockey was amid the bloodshed.
Whether or not Wayne State continued to exist, this was probably going to be its last season in the CHA. So either way, the CHA, which has continued to exist despite major challenges, was going to face yet another crisis itself.
Now, that moment of truth has arrived, leaving few options if the league is to remain viable — which it realistically cannot at four teams.
"Unfortunately, it's going to hurt more than less," Wilkinson said. "I hope people step up to help. They didn't in our scenario to any great degree, and that takes its toll. We're not bluffing. We're just trying to have reality step in. And maybe reality is they don't need those other programs, other leagues. But unfortunately you lose opportunities for young men to play college hockey, and former players who want to be coaches. And I feel that's a shame on the college hockey coaches.
"I hope it gives an opportunity for the other schools and other leagues to say, 'Holy cow, we can't afford to lose more programs.' It's hard enough to get a job with the teams that are out there, let alone when you don't have any.
"I hope our demise will help someone else survive. I hope we're not the snowball that's building up going down the hill."
The Warriors will, of course, face a challenge this season of remaining passionate in the face of knowing the program is a lame duck. But Wilkinson believes his players will use it as a rallying cry.
"We're not dead," Wilkinson said. "This is kind of a sad day and we'll have to work through the season and do the best we can.
"I don't know if there's a better way. If you're going to do it, maybe it should've been done a while ago before we brought all these kids in. We brought in 15, 16 freshmen. But once they're here I'd rather have them do it up front rather than the back end. At least in this process, we're looking at a whole full season where we can market and showcase their skills."
Wilkinson, of course, will also be looking for work next season.
"My wife was the first one to ask me, 'What the hell you doing (next year)'," Wilkinson said. "Seven other people asked me, and I said, 'You're behind her.'
"I'm not ready to retire from coaching. I think I've got a few good years left, and I'd like to do something with it."