CCHA, Atlantic Schools To Meet, Weigh Options
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
CCHA officials will meet within the next two weeks with representatives of four Atlantic Hockey schools about a potential change in conferences in 2013-14.
Robert Morris, Niagara, Mercyhurst and Canisius are all actively exploring the possibility of switching from Atlantic Hockey to the CCHA. It is believed that the four would leave as a group, or not at all, though that is not set in stone.
All four schools have previously expressed interest in playing with 18 scholarships, the maximum allowed in Division I men's hockey. Atlantic Hockey, however, restricts its members to awarding 12 scholarships. A recent vote to increase that to 13 did not pass.
"We don't want to lose anybody," Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio said. "This year, there's 12 teams committed and moving forward. As far as I'm concerned, nothing has changed. But you don't have to be rocket scientist to see that any movements that take place, will be happening in a couple years.
"Each program has the right to explore their options and determine what's in the best interest for their institution. The only caveat is that I ask to keep me informed. I respect that, and if they feel it's important for them to leave, it's OK."
Robert Morris and Niagara were awarding 18 scholarships up until a couple of years ago, when their previous conference, College Hockey America, disbanded.
"I had someone tell me the only reason they want to leave is because of scholarships, and I find that hard to believe," DeGregorio said. "This league is nine years old, everyone is excited about this season, we have 12 teams, a new playoff format in place. You have to put down the pros and cons."
The discussions are the latest in a chain reaction that started with last year's announcement that Penn State would start a Division I program. After that, the Big Ten announced it would form in 2013-14, and recently, the six-team NCHC was formed out of WCHA and CCHA schools, to begin play the same year. Many more movements are expected as a result.
"It's great we added a 59th program, but as I've been saying all along, what is the fallout?" DeGregorio said. "If we end up losing two to three programs, or destroying some good leagues, then we haven't done what's good for college hockey. It's funny, but when Robert Morris and Niagara were looking for a place to go, everyone called me and said, 'Bob, you gotta do a good thing for hockey.' Where is that now? Everyone is doing what's best for them and to hell with everyone else.
The irony now is that, letting those schools go, could actually help save the remaining CCHA programs.
As of 2013-14, the CCHA could be reduced to as few as three members. Of the 11 that will play in the CCHA this year, three (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State) will leave for the Big Ten; one will leave for the new NCHC (Miami); two more, Notre Dame and Western Michigan, are also expected to move to the new league or elsewhere; Northern Michigan is set to go to the WCHA; and Alaska may also be WCHA-bound. That would leave only Bowling Green, Ferris State and Lake Superior State, far short of the minimum of six members required to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The move would shift the CCHA's footprint slightly East, but not significantly so. Niagara and Canisius are in Buffalo, N.Y., Mercyhurst is in Erie, Pa., and Robert Morris is in Pittsburgh.
Talks will hinge on a variety of issues, some of which will be difficult to settle immediately. Among them include the future of the CCHA's television contract, and the location of the CCHA's tournament.
It's also believed that the Atlantic schools are not prepared to play in the league if Alaska is still involved, which could be another sticking point. That sentiment also does not bode well for Alabama-Huntsville, Division I's lone independent, which has been searching unsuccessfully for a new home since the dissolution of the CHA.
Unlike his WCHA counterpart, Bruce McLeod, who was left in the dark as five schools were negotiating to leave the league, DeGregorio has been kept in the loop by his member schools.
"We had a similar situation when I was at Merrimack and we moved to a Division I independent (from Division II/III)," DeGregorio said. "We had been playing Bowdoin and Colby for years, and I had to make some phone calls (to say we wouldn't play them anymore). We had great relationships."
DeGregorio said he will counsel the schools in question, but there's only so much he can do.
"Why would I want to prevent it? Why would I want someone in our league that doesn't want to be there?," DeGregorio said. "But those programs have to look in the mirror and do what's best for their institutions. They have to be aware of their alumni, and their financial situation and budget. And they have to digest whether it's better to be in Atlantic Hockey or the CCHA."