The CCHA's Burden
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Had the CCHA been more open or quick about welcoming Wayne State into its ranks, perhaps the program would have survived.
But is it fair to heap that kind of responsibility upon the CCHA?
The last time the CCHA expanded, it did so with a school with proven local commitment — Nebraska-Omaha — one that has continued to sell out its games. Wayne State played home games in front of no more than 500 people, in poor facilities.
Bill Wilkinson, Wayne State head coach, may not have been bluffing in April when he said the program needed the CCHA or else it would probably disband, but that doesn't mean it was the CCHA responsibility to do anything about it.
"I don't think — and I'm not speaking on behalf of the league — in my own words, I'm not sure it's fair to expect somebody to take on the full responsibility of saving a program," said CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos. "I think that falls on the program itself."
Anastos did say, however, that it was fair for Wayne State to expect the college hockey community to give some level of support. And, it has done that. For the most part, CCHA teams regularly played games with Wayne State, including in Detroit.
And Anastos welcomed a suggestion from Wayne State to consider a "scheduling alliance." This would've forced, so to speak, all the CCHA teams — including Michigan and Michigan State — to schedule home and road games against the Warriors.
Anastos raised the issue during league meetings earlier this week. Before it had a chance to go anywhere, Wayne State announced the program's demise.
"Generally speaking, while we (didn't) have a formal agreement in place, our guys have done a very good job of scheduling Wayne State and the other CHA teams too," Anastos said. "I know home games are a challenge, but I could speak for a number of teams in college hockey who have challenges getting a home game. So that's not a unique thing."
Perhaps it's fair to say that college hockey, in an era where there's more money and more TV, has more of an "every-man/conference-for-himself" mentality than it once did. But it's probably unfair to say that the collegial atmosphere has disappeared.
Perhaps just this time, and this case, did not lend itself to the type of "support" Wayne State was seeking.
These are the fair questions that need to be asked.
"I think people are very concerned about the overall health of the sport, but when you look at league membership, that's a whole new set of dynamic that come into play," Anastos said. "But we didn't eliminate that. I've read where they've applied for years, and we rejected them. Well that's not so. ... We're going through the process right now of creating an application process, because we don't have one.
"I think it's fair to say that no one in the sport wants to see programs go away. We just don't. But at the same time, that doesn't mean you sacrifice everything just to keep a program alive."
In the big picture, the demise of one program — though a psychological blow, perhaps — will not cause seismic problems. If it trickles down, however, to the demise of the CHA as a whole, and the remaining programs in it, that's another story.
"I don't think it will have any impact on the 16-team field at all," Anastos said, addressing a particular concern of shrinking teams.
"(But) if that trickles down, you never know. But that tournament, right now, because it's so successful, is pretty solid. ... But my bigger concern is, I'm very disappointed a program has gone away. And going forward, I just hope it doesn't have a continued trickle down effect on other programs. Finding solutions for those other programs is a very big challenge in the sport. We have to figure it out."
And if those other programs start facing similar issues, then other leagues will be facing the same questions as the CHA. Already, Bemidji State has said the future of its program depends on getting into the WCHA. And Niagara has applied for entrance into the ECAC.
"The world will go on," Anastos said. "As a hockey person, I don't want to see opportunities go away. I love the sport. I want to see the sport have great success. Maybe, unfortunately, in that particular place, in that particular time, it wasn't meant to be based on the commitment that school was willing to make."
And Anastos said the CHA's demise is not inevitable.
"Don't say that yet. We still have some time," he said.
"We've used Plan A, and now we're to Plan B I guess, and let's hope we don't have to get to Plan C."