September 26, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Wayne State Dropping Hockey

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Wayne State University has decided to drop its men's hockey program at the end of the 2007-08 season, a move that will not only drop the ranks of men's hockey to 58 teams but send further reverberations through the sport. The school made an official announcement via a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The decision was approved by the school's Board of Governors on Wednesday. According to the statement, the move was "necessary due to continuing reductions in state appropriations to higher education."

"Anytime you eliminate a program, it is a very difficult move. We exhausted every possible option before taking this step," said WSU Director of Athletics Rob Fournier in a statement. "The reality of the economics of the state of Michigan, the educational imperatives of the University, and the need to manage our resources effectively led to this difficult decision. Importantly, however, the educational objectives of the men's hockey student-athletes will be protected."

The loss of Wayne State, a member of College Hockey America, will effectively end the efficacy of that conference. The CHA, and college hockey as a whole, has had to go through hoops in recent years to retain the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the conference's ranks dwindled to just five teams before last season. Going to four teams will make an automatic bid impossible.

That will ultimately call into question the future, and perhaps the very existence, of the other four CHA hockey programs — Robert Morris, Bemidji State, Alabama-Huntsville and Niagara. Each had been poking around for another conference just in case this occured, but nothing has been imminent.

Wayne State, in particular, applied to the CCHA last year, but was denied entrance. At the time, Bill Wilkinson, head coach of the program for all eight years of its existence, said that without entry into the CCHA, the program's future was in serious doubt.

"Our president, at the beginning of building the program in 1999, wanted some place to play," Wilkinson said. "But when he hired me, the first words out of his mouth was, 'When you gonna beat Michigan?' So that's the mentality.

"They need to play schools they recognize — Lake (Superior) State, Northern Michigan. We can't keep playing teams that nobodoy's heard of."

Wilkinson's comments reflected the catch-22 of College Hockey America — a league that was arranged as a home for wayward programs, and as a place new programs could use as an entry-way into college hockey. But because of the wayward nature of the programs, the individual schools never attracted the followings en masse, particularly at Wayne State, a relatively large school in the middle of hockey country in Detroit.

At the time, Wilkinson implored his friends in the CCHA — where he used to be a head coach at Western Michigan — to accept his program, or this might be the result. The CCHA has been reluctant, however, to surpass the 12-team mark it's at now.

"It would be an issue in regards to schedules, but what's the benefits and what's the detriment?" Wilkinson said. "But what would be the benefit to having a team fold up?

"When I was at St. Lawrence, we had 17 teams in the ECAC. We didn't even play Brown. There was an inequality in the schedule — but we kept our teams. They didn't die because of lack of interest in the league."

Wayne State made the NCAA tournament for the only time in 2002-03, the first year of a 16-team field and the first year of CHA's automatic bid.

The women's program will continue, the school said. The men's program is the most expensive of the school's 17 sports, it said.

According to Wayne State, all current men's players will have the scholarships honored, provided they meet satisfactory progress standards under NCAA guidelines. Releases will be offered to those who wish to transfer to other schools next summer, where they will be eligible to participate immediately as the normal residency requirements of the NCAA are waived.

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