Helping Bemidji Could Come at Others' Expense
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Although WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said he has the utmost respect for the CCHA — and I believe him — something about the latest WCHA expansion plan is unseemly.
In order for Bemidji State to be accepted to the WCHA, the league must find a 12th team. To do so, it said — in so many words — that it will try to actively recruit an existing CCHA team to move.
All this does is pass the problem on from one league to another. It doesn't help the overall college hockey landscape.
McLeod acknowledges the issue.
"I have the utmost repsect for (CCHA commissioner) Tom Anastos and what they're going through right now," McLeod said. "We know there's some issues at Bowling Green, and maybe another school too regarding the health there — so it will be a delicate issue.
"Under the circumstances, with the demise of the CHA, the water is getting muddier in this D-I lake here. It'll be a delicate issue. Anything that I do regarding another league, I'm going to be up front and above board as much as I can. But we've reached a real critical point, especially in the West. And the direction I've been given, we have to be more aggressive about our approach. We're at the 11th and a half, and closer to the 12th, hour here."
I perfectly understand that it's every man for himself. It was that way when Niagara and Robert Morris jumped to Atlantic Hockey, and it has always been that way, to some extent. And there's no doubt, it will be extremely unfortunate if Bemidji State's viability is compromised by being left without a home.
But it's somewhat ironic that the groundswell of sympathy for Bemidji State's survival, may now come at the expense of another program or conference.
Bemidji State appealed to the "what's best for college hockey" sympathy vote, but its own self interest now will only be served at someone else's expense.
This does not necessarily make any of the players here wrong or shady or anything of the sort. However, it removes the purely altruistic component of this process.
"If we weren't concerned about Bemidji or the landscape in general, we would just stay at 10," McLeod said.
True enough. And if the WCHA was going to take on BSU regardless, and move to 11 teams, then it would be mainly altruistic. But we can't expect them to do that either.
The bottom line is, there are no good moves here, and there hasn't been for a while.
Without new programs coming in, there are no good options. And a new program can't just go into the WCHA, because the WCHA wouldn't want that at all.
Which is why the CHA was formed, to be a home for new programs. But that's out the window now.
It's a mess and college hockey is stuck.
What I believe will happen is this: Neither Nebraska-Omaha or Northern Michigan will decide to leave the CCHA, and there will be no good answer for Bemidji still. The WCHA will then either choose to bring in Moorhead or Alabama-Huntsville in desperation, or bring in BSU as an 11th team after all. But all three of those possibilities are in the sub-10-percent range, if you ask me. And the UNO/NMU option is not much better.
Which means nothing will change, ultimately, and Bemidji will be up a creek.
I'll once again throw out there the thing that makes everyone gasp — Big Ten Hockey. Years ago, I would've gasped too. Hate the idea. Bad for college hockey. Bad for the little guy that makes this sport great.
But now, it may be the only thing that saves all the programs. It might make the rich, richer. It might hurt North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, etc... from having the big schools in their conference. But that "rich is getting richer" dynamic has already happened. Those Big Ten schools are already on TV a ton, already get the blue chippers.
But whereas the smaller schools think they benefit from being in the same conference as Big Ten schools, maybe they don't as much. Or, at least, it's not as much of a disaster as they might think to be separate. And the benefit is, their own chances of competing against each other for automatic NCAA bids goes up quite a bit.
And, it creates room for expansion in the CCHA and WCHA.
Just a thought.