August 25, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Remaining CCHA Teams Will Move to WCHA

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

After two rounds of talks, the WCHA is ready to accept five CCHA schools into the conference, sources have indicated to CHN.

The switch from the CCHA to the WCHA is pending each individual schools' Board of Trustees approving the move. Announcements will thus come piecemeal, with the first ones potentially coming as early as Friday.

The WCHA has given the CCHA schools a 30-day window in which to officially accept the invitation. At least three CCHA schools are certain to accept — Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Alaska.

The moves would take place as of the 2013-14 season, the same season two new college hockey conferences — created from current WCHA and CCHA teams — are scheduled to begin.

The five CCHA teams in question are the five that are set to remain in the CCHA as of 2013-14 — Alaska, Lake Superior State, Bowling Green, Ferris State and Western Michigan.

Notre Dame is also part of the picture in 2013-14, but is currently internally debating whether to accept an invitation to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) or Hockey East. It has already expressed its intentions of leaving the CCHA.

Western Michigan is the one CCHA school of the remaining five least likely to join the WCHA. It is waiting for Notre Dame's decision to see if it can join the Irish wherever they go. The wrinkle will be if the WCHA puts a time limit on Western Michigan's acceptance, and force them to commit for a certain number of years.

Bowling Green could balk as well, figuring it could go to the NCHC with Western Michigan if Notre Dame chooses Hockey East. However, it's difficult to wait for Notre Dame, not knowing when a decision is coming.

The formation of the Big Ten hockey conference and NCHC — to begin play in 2013-14 — will remove at least 11 teams from the WCHA and CCHA, with Notre Dame and Western Michigan potentially making it 13. With Northern Michigan's decision to move from the CCHA back to the WCHA, it would leave the conferences with four and six teams, respectively.

There was talk of four Atlantic Hockey schools — Robert Morris, Niagara, Mercyhurst and Canisius — leaving for the CCHA. However, Lake Superior State and Alaska have been pushing hard for a move to the WCHA. That would've left just Bowling Green and Ferris State behind, and even with the Atlantic Hockey teams, it would've been a six-team CCHA, a precarious amount given the volatility of the college hockey landscape. Six teams is the minimum required by the NCAA to receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

A "merger" of the remaining WCHA and CCHA schools would thus insulate all of them against further movement, and ensure the conference would retain an automatic bid. It does, however, remove one autobid from the equation, with the effective dissolution of the CCHA.

Soon after CHN published its report, the two leagues released a joint statement confirming the news.

“We are committed to creating stability for the conference and believe by inviting these institutions we will create one of the strongest conferences in the nation,” Minnesota State president Richard Davenport said in the statement. “This is one of the main reasons presidents voted today to invite CCHA member institutions to join our conference. Also, as presidents, we are committed to providing the best college hockey opportunities in the country for our student-athletes.”

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod added in the statement, “This is truly a significant and quite remarkable twist in what has been a period of great consternation and transition in the college hockey world.

The WCHA's decision to invite five CCHA schools into the league comes after a meeting earlier this week in Chicago with representatives from all of the schools, where they exchanged financial figures and numerous other data while exploring the feasibility of joining forces.

The five WCHA teams that were left out of the Big Ten and NCHC formations were Bemidji State, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech.

“During what were very informative and productive meetings in Chicago, and as we worked our way through the agenda," McLeod said, "it became clear that all of these great institutions share a commonality in that every one of them is 100 percent committed to the sport of collegiate ice hockey, and that they also share a great deal philosophically both athletically and academically. From there, the idea of coming together was a natural progression.”

The decision essentially ends the CCHA, thus making it a noble move by CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch, who could be without a position in 2013.

“This invitation represents a tremendous opportunity for the remaining members of both leagues,” Pletsch said. “Their collective commitment to Division I hockey was evident in Chicago and the synergy created by last Tuesday’s meeting will help all involved chart a course that is right for their respective program and provide further stability to college hockey’s evolving landscape.”

The CCHA was formed in 1971-72 when Bowling Green, Ohio State, St. Louis, and Ohio University could not gain entrance into the WCHA. A year later, Lake Superior joined, but the year after that, the two Ohio schools dropped out. After a number of other teams came and went, the CCHA strengthened enormously when Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Michigan Tech all left the WCHA for the CCHA in 1981.

There is still room in the new-look WCHA for some Atlantic Hockey teams down the road, if the parties are willing. The aforementioned AH teams are looking to play with 18 scholarships, the NCAA maximum, instead of the 12 they are currently limited to by Atlantic Hockey. But stability is also an important factor, something Atlantic Hockey currently provides.

The team that continues to be left out of the equation is Alabama-Huntsville, which was part of College Hockey America before that league folded. Huntsville will be headed into another season as an independent, unable to find a conference that will accept it. Long-term, there are signs that Huntsville's program will not be able to survive as an independent.

Meanwhile, the WCHA and CCHA have agreed to continue to hold regular talks to address such topics as by-laws, scheduling, tournament scenarios, finances and additional membership.

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