Commentary: Whither CHA
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The idea of "conference realignment" is generating a lot of buzz out there, kick-started by a blog posting from Denver Post beat writer Mike Chambers.
Since then, other blogs have commented, and both we and other news organizations have tried to separate fact from fiction.
Unfortunately, some are trying to make this a competition between us and the original author, and it shouldn't be that way at all. We have nothing but respect for his work. This is simply about getting to the truth of what's going on.
The phrase "conference realignment" should be thrown out the window, to begin with. It implies that some grand poo-bah has overlord privileges over the situation. As we know, this is not the case. Any time teams move conferences, it requires the hierarchy of that institution, straight up to the president, to approve; and it requires approval of the incoming conference, most of whom have long-standing specific issues with adding any more teams. After that, no one can force anything, making most of these discussions academic.
Here's the thing:
Is there a problem? Yes. We've long known that the remaining CHA schools are in an un-sustainable situation, particularly since Wayne State closed down its program. Unfortunately, for all the work done to save the CHA as a viable conference, no long-term solutions have panned out, and the conference is on its last legs. That means we turn attention to trying to save the remaining programs — Niagara, Robert Morris, Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville — from extinction. To do that, something must be done.
Have people been trying to figure out solutions to the problem? Yes, absolutely. Any and every possibility.
Have the conference commissioners specifically discussed "realignment"? Absolutely not. Has. Not. Happened. They don't have the power to do anything about it anyway.
Is it practical that the CCHA will add UAH, that Nebraska-Omaha will move to the WCHA, and that the WCHA will accept Bemidji State? Not really, no.
Is it practical that RMU and Niagara will be accepted by Atlantic Hockey? If need be, absolutely.
Let's take a look at each of these situations independently, because that's really what it is. Again, there is no great overseer who will be able to move things around like pieces on a chessboard and solve all the problems.
Niagara and Robert Morris
As we mentioned in our last article, it's very feasible that these two schools will join Atlantic Hockey. Assuming the CHA can't be saved, it will eventually be every man for himself. Niagara resisted this move in the past because it would mean having to reduce the scholarships it offers to the AHA limit, which is less than the NCAA limit of 18. But it's getting to a point where there is no choice.
Atlantic Hockey has lifted its moratorium on expansion, and commissioner Bob DeGregorio has visited both RMU and Niagara.
If need be, this is what will happen. And that need is getting closer every day.
Niagara athletic director Ed McLaughlin, who is also the CHA commissioner at the moment, acknowledged that, while he'd love for all four schools to be "saved," that at some point, he simply has to look out for Niagara. McLaughlin said that by the end of this season, it will be time to determine everyone's fate once and for all.
These guys are stuck, let's face it. And everyone knows it. It would be nice to say that the CCHA would be charitible, and just allow them in out of the goodness of their own heart. But things don't work that way.
Hopefully, UAH doesn't make the mistake that Wayne State's administration did, and start promising players and parents that it would be in the CCHA within two years when it knew darn well it wouldn't.
At this time, the CCHA has not even received an application from UAH to join the league. More than likely, UAH will apply, and more than likely, UAH will be denied. The CCHA has no desire to go beyond 12 teams, and unless someone leaves, there's no room.
CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos did make a courtesy visit to Alabama-Huntsville's campus at the school's invitation, as a way of seeing if there was anything he could help them with. But this was not a "site visit" with the intention of vetting the school over whether or not it would join the CCHA.
I think UAH will make a go at being an independent, and then face some serious issues within a couple of years.
The WCHA recently took one tiny step in a very long process towards accepting Bemidji State, if it's indeed so inclined, and that's highly questionable.
The league has agreed to vote whether to lift the moratorium on expansion. That's it. Agreed to vote over whether to lift the moratorium. If the vote wins, then the moratorium is lifted. Then, and only then, could Bemidji State apply to get in. And at that point, it would face an uphill climb.
Again, this is a situation where everyone feels badly for BSU, but the league doesn't really want to go as far as to let them in.
The scheduling arrangement with the WCHA and the new arena, will both be helpful. But like UAH, BSU may need to try to make it as an independent. This puts both of these programs at risk of losing support of the administration.
McLeod has said in the past that allowing BSU in would hurt the CHA, and that his goal was to help the CHA survive; but that if the CHA demise was imminent, his attitude towards BSU might change. So here we are, and now BSU is desperate for a new home. But it's still not in McLeod's hands. There are powerful forces in the WCHA which may not have an inclination for charitibility towards BSU.
If UNO has any interest of leaving the CCHA and applying for the WCHA, it's the best-kept secret around. UNO has made no mention of this intention to either CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos, nor WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod.
The most likely conclusion to draw from that, is that they have no such intention. And again, for as practical as it may be to rearrange the chess pieces, without the inclination of the UNO administration, it's never going to happen.
The Great Cataclysm
You want a "solution" to this problem? Try the Big Ten Hockey Conference on for size.
Yes, this is something that makes many hockey fans recoil, for good reason. Over the years, I was never a fan of this, worried that the smaller schools in the WCHA and CCHA would get left behind, and hurt their viability — while the rich just got richer.
Well, as I wrote last year, it might be time to embrace this idea, because it's probably inevitable at this point, and it essentially would solve the issue with the CHA schools.
Think about it, if the CCHA is suddenly stripped of Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and, say, Notre Dame, do you think it would be more likely to embrace Alabama-Huntsville? Of course.
And if the WCHA loses Minnesota and Wisconsin, you think Bemidji State would be welcomed with open arms? Of course.
In addition, it gives the remaining WCHA and CCHA schools a better shot at that NCAA tournament automatic bid, no?
I think rather than resisting this possibility, we may have to accept that times change, and embrace it for the positives that would come out of it. And it's not as though the rich haven't gotten richer in recent years anyway.