What's Next for College Hockey?
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Today, Notre Dame became the 17th team this year to announce it will change conference affiliation as of the 2013-14 season. That's now known as "TYECInCH" — or, The Year Everything Changes In College Hockey.
Putting aside the near-absurdity of wrapping ours heads around that, today's decision makes sense for all involved.
As frustrated as everyone was waiting for Notre Dame to make its decision, who is to say that everyone else didn't rush? Notre Dame made a sound decision based on all of the factors. We first wrote in May that it was a good option for them — before the NCHC came into existence.
And Hockey East makes a solid choice as well. It's easy to understand the general animosity towards Notre Dame — if you don't love Notre Dame football, then you loathe it and all it stands for. This is a common feeling in the sports world. But Notre Dame hockey is a different story.
It's a great thing that Notre Dame has become a strong, viable program. College hockey needs as many of those as it can get. It's opening a beautiful new on-campus arena this season. And the reason all of this is possible, is the work that Jeff Jackson has done. He is a great coach, and a solid, tremendous, insightful person — a great ambassador of the game.
So the haters are gonna hate, and let them. After all of the turmoil this offseason, this is one move you can get behind.
All of that said, Hockey East was Notre Dame's second choice. It's not a bad second choice, and it was a close call. But Notre Dame preferred the NCHC because of its Western footprint.
Notre Dame didn't say this at Wednesday's press conference, and that's perfectly understandable. It would be silly for them to admit that publicly when standing there in a nice-nice moment with its new conference brothers. But it's true. We thought you should know.
But again, that doesn't mean anyone did anything wrong. The NCHC hierarchy — whatever that consists of at this point — decided to stand its ground and recoil at the idea of Notre Dame bringing its own TV deal into the league. I can't say I fully understand the NCHC's adamance on not wanting Notre Dame under these conditions; understanding that schools may not want one member to seem superior to others, it seems to be a positive for a new league to bring a large national TV deal into it, even if it's focused on one school. But they had their reasons.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, had its reasons for standing its ground and wanting that deal, and tried to work something out where everyone would be happy.
That relationship just didn't work out. So Notre Dame married Hockey East instead. A perfectly acceptable alternative for all parties.
Next for Hockey East will be finding a 12th team. There is near-universal belief within Hockey East that a 12th team is desirable, instead of playing at 11.
The misconception some people have, however, is that this decision will come immediately.
Hockey East is going to take its time to find the right 12th team. It's true that schedules get made a couple years in advance, and that it would be nice to find that team sooner than later. But they're not going to take just anyone in order to help the schedule makers.
We reported last week that RPI is the most likely 12th team, and it kicked off a bit of a stir. The RPI option is strong mainly because a) RPI is very interested; and b) none of the other more logical answers for Hockey East is remotely ready to join the league.
But opinions are mixed within Hockey East — i.e. the athletic directors who make the decisions — about whether they want RPI. The school is Division III in all other sports, doesn't fit as well geographically (the Notre Dame move notwithstanding), and isn't as logical a pick as some others. Those others include Connecticut, Rhode Island and Syracuse. The problem is, two of those three don't even have a program and are unlikely to have one soon, and UConn's facilities and overall program are not close to Hockey East standards.
Many ADs want to wait to see if any of those schools will get on board. Thing is, it will most likely turn out to be a fruitless wait anyway.
A Syracuse spokesperson said, "Our current configuration of teams and student-athletes makes it virtually impossible to add a men's sport. ... And, our hockey facility is very modest, so we would have some type of large facility investment."
Then there's Holy Cross and Quinnipiac, which have established programs and are closer, geographically, to Hockey East's center, and are full-fledged D-I schools. Holy Cross' "identity" fits more into Hockey East, but its facility is well behind Quinnipiac's.
RPI would remain the frontrunner, but it's not a slam dunk. Hockey East could also decide to stick with 11 for a while — maybe playing that way for a year or two — while waiting to see how things play out. Just because they have stated a preference for 12, doesn't mean that playing with 11 is impossible. The CCHA did it last year, and will for two more seasons.
We should know more in the coming weeks.