October 17, 2006 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Commentary: Beavers Should Stay Put

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

An article last week in the local Bemidji State newspaper has set off yet another round of debate over whether the Beavers will eventually be admitted into the WCHA.

The article, which did not quote anyone from the WCHA expressing actual interest in this idea, relied heavily on comments from BSU coach Tom Serratore. Serratore asserted that it's always been the program's goal to eventually get into the WCHA.

Whether the idea can even get off the ground depends upon whether local voters approve a referendum to fund a new arena. The vote comes in November. If it's rejected, the whole thing is moot, at least for now. Bemidji's current facility doesn't come close to meeting the minimum standards set by the WCHA.

If the referendum does go through, however, the WCHA should reject the idea.

This is nothing against Bemidji State, a fine program with good fans and a good coach.

And it's a reality that schools and conferences are going to look out for their own best interests and aren't going to take this advice anyway.

But if you are looking at it from a college hockey standpoint, it's a bad idea. And you could even say it's a bad idea for Bemidji State.

Here's the thing ... If Bemidji State leaves the CHA for the WCHA, the CHA is, once and for all, dead. And that is bad for college hockey. Period.

If a new team — Penn State, Syracuse, Iowa State (just to name a few that are always thrown out there as hopefuls) — wants to join the ranks of D-I hockey, where is it going to go? Perhaps these schools are so big, the big conferences will admit them. But those conferences are getting too big already.

The CHA is a perfect outlet for a new program. If there were more teams playing college hockey, one conference could withstand comings and goings. But the CHA is going to crumble if it loses anyone else.

And if the WCHA expands beyond 10 teams, to 11 or 12, then there is no going back. If BSU leaves, the CHA folds, the other CHA teams join conferences or fold up shop, and then what? Do you think you would ever get anyone to leave a Big 4 conference? This isn't professional sports where the teams can agree to re-align. It's every man for himself. In order for a new conference to come into existence, you would need SIX new programs coming into D-I at the same time.

The positives for Bemidji State are obvious — it raises the school's profile, it gets them playing a lot of natural rivals. But what about its chances of making the NCAA tournament? Those will be seriously damaged, at least at first, if it makes that move.

There's another team hanging out there, and that's the University of British Columbia, a very intriguing possibility that came to light a couple of months ago when the school said it has applied for acceptance into the NCAA. It would be the first Canadian university to get accepted.

The Canadian University hockey system isn't as strong as the NCAA — it's often a final refuge for players after Major Junior, who aren't good enough for the pros, or just would rather get an education than go to the minors.

But going NCAA D-I in hockey would give UBC instant credibility, what with so many recruits in its backyard. And with a 7,000-seat arena being built in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics, it would be attractive to the WCHA. And if you add an 11th team, maybe the WCHA would add a 12th, and then that's Bemidji.

"The mood in the WCHA right now is not for expansion," WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod told CSTV.com recently. "I think the group as a whole is very comfortable where we're at right now, but that doesn't preclude any general talks about expansion or movement or anything like that at all.

"(But) something like this makes us put on our thinking caps a little bit."

Of course, going on the above logic, the best place for UBC is the CHA. But the CHA would then have major travel issues, even moreso than it has now, and those schools are less able to afford it.

The very best solution — a lot more schools joining D-I, followed by a "realignment" — is a pipe dream, but one worth dreaming about.

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