June 13, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

WCHA or CCHA? That's UNO's Next Question

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

It's been no secret that the WCHA has pursued Nebraska-Omaha to move from the CCHA. The impetus is to make it easier for the WCHA to also accept Bemidji State, a program that desperately needs a new home with the imminent demise of its current conference, College Hockey America.

It's also not a secret that new athletic director Trev Alberts was willing to put that question on the table, as part of a thorough review of the program.

But first, Alberts needed to find himself a new head coach for his hockey program.

With that now done, naming former North Dakota national champion Dean Blais, Alberts admits the focus will quickly shift to the CCHA/WCHA question.

"It's time to get serious with that," Alberts said. "I've talked to (CCHA commissioner) Tom (Anastos) and (WCHA commissioner) Bruce (McLeod). I just need a day or two to rest, and then we'll get back to it.

"I do think that Dean's input is valuable. He's been in it a long time. (But) I don't think Dean wants to make that decision. He'll be comfortable either way. He doesn't strike me as a guy who's afraid of anyone. So we'll figure out what's best for UNO hockey, and best for our kids.

"I think we've gathered some facts, and now it's time to analyze those facts and make a sound decision. Next week, we'll start working on it."

Both Blais and Alberts unequivocally denied a Internet-blog-driven rumor that assurances of moving to the WCHA was part of Blais' contract negotiations.

"I'm not that powerful, come on," Blais said, chuckling. "No, I feel lucky to have a job sometimes. I didn't put any demands on that."

"We never broached that topic," Alberts said.

Blais said there are pros and cons to switching.

"It's really competitive (the WCHA). You look year in and year out, you have five teams just sitting at the top of college hockey," Blais said. "And a lot of times those five teams have been in the top 10 of the country. So it's a hard league to get home ice and win in. That's not to say the CCHA is different ... but I'm more familiar with the WCHA because I've been there 19 years."

Alaska-Anchorage athletic director Steve Cobb indicated in a recent news article that the WCHA would like to get things in place by August. Alberts said that was reasonable, and expects to know his school's decision by then.

As college hockey awaits UNO's decision, there are numerous interlocking dynamics at play.

* Alaska-Fairbanks has expressed interest in using this as an opportunity to join in-state brethren Alaska-Anchorage in the same league. Clearly, this would be nice for the two Alaska schools, but they were originally split so that the CCHA/WCHA would share in the "burden."

* Putting Fairbanks aside for the moment, it seems the WCHA's first choice is UNO.

* If UNO says yes, does that mean the CCHA fills that hole with Alabama-Huntsville, the other program without a home after next season? That would seem to be a respectable swap financially, though UAH's program is well behind UNO's, currently.

* If UNO says no, and stays in the CCHA, how likely does Fairbanks' move become? It definitely helps the Alaska schools to be together, but what does it do to the WCHA and CCHA? Would the WCHA want the extra expense of adding another Alaska school, or not mind because of the two extra exemptions many teams would get? Would the CCHA prefer having Alaska leave, or does it actually benefit from Alaska subsidizing the travel of CCHA teams, and the two exemptions?

* Note that, Fairbanks has to subsidize 25 flights for opponents, while Anchorage only subsidizes 12 in the WCHA. So Fairbanks would see cost savings there.

And we haven't even talked about the lingering Bowling Green question. If that program goes under, which is still very much possible, then what?

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