July 15, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

WCHA Moves a Wash for College Hockey

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

The WCHA's gain, is the CCHA's loss. If you ask the CCHA — despite what WCHA officials say — the WCHA's expansion is a net neutral for college hockey.

There was a palpable tension during the process of the WCHA adding a 12th team to its league, openly and aggressively courting CCHA member Nebraska-Omaha to enter with Bemidji State.

Despite a long history of cooperation between the leagues in college hockey, and personal cordiality between CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos and WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, the situation was clearly touchy, to say the least.

The WCHA has talked a lot about doing what is best for college hockey. But while adding Bemidji State — after BSU had run out of options to keep its program viable — was certainly a gracious and strong move by the WCHA to benefit Bemidji State, its effect on college hockey as a whole is more neutral if it negatively impacts the CCHA.

McLeod tried to sell it, saying that UNO's move can be an overall benefit to college hockey as a whole, because the chain reaction effect could result in saving Alabama-Huntsville as well.

"I have a long relationshp with Tom, and we openly discussed this, including three weeks ago in San Antonio at meetings of the (NCAA) championships committee," McLeod said. "Tom is first class all the way. As an individual, I have nothing but good things to say.

"Having said that, we went into this process above board, to do it the right way best we could. Part of that was keeping Tom informed. I hope he would say we followed through on that. It's clear he didn't want to lose Omaha. It speaks to their caliber. And actually, he made some other suggestions to me — why not think about these things.

"I've proven in the past with involvement getting the WCHA going — I work for the WCHA — but I need to step back and look at what's best for college hockey in general. Hopefully if it (WCHA expansion) worked out with Omaha or someone else, that would open a slot (for Alabama-Huntsville). That may not have be the same caliber or attractiveness (as UNO), but that we could save another program. ... I hope that happens."

Still, there is no question that the CCHA takes a hit — at least in the short term — from this switch. No offense to Albama-Huntsville, but its program, and the commitment to the program, do not currently approach what Nebraska-Omaha is.

The CCHA has declined to comment, except to say in a statement that it was "disappointed" in losing Nebraska-Omaha.

UNO is doing what is in its best interests, and the WCHA is doing what's in its best interests — these things are par for the course in college athletics, and understood.

But CCHA people have been understandably irked by the WCHA's insistence that this is "best for college hockey."

No doubt there was never a bulletproof solution to any of this, but who is the WCHA kidding? A better overall solution — at least geographically — was probably to pluck away Fairbanks, not Omaha.

There was some talk of a joint session with the two leagues' members schools, with the hopes of hammering out what was the best for everyone. The WCHA was not interested.

Also, despite McLeod's hopes, Alabama-Huntsville's admittance into the CCHA is no sure thing. And, sources say, its chances are only barely improved with UNO's departure. There are still many logistical concerns among the CCHA membership. These hurdles can be overcome, but UNO's departure was not UAH's magic bullet.

The CCHA should know more in August, when a formal report is made to its membership by those who have been doing the due dilligence on UAH's application.

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