Q&A with ... Bowling Green AD Greg Christopher
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Bowling Green accepted an invitation today to become a member of a new-look nine-team WCHA in 2013-14, the year everything changes in college hockey. We spoke to Bowling Green athletic director Greg Christopher about the WCHA, and the changes that have taken place. Bowling Green was thought to be looking into possible entrance into the new NCHC, or perhaps forming a new league — or new-look CCHA — with multiple Atlantic Hockey schools.
CHN: I know you were looking into other options. What finally prompted you to accept the WCHA invitation?
Christopher: Our primary objective in all this was to find a home where we could compete for a championship. The hockey part of it was the driving part of any decision we were going to make. We had options, and we were exploring any and all options. At the end of the day, this wound up being the most fully developed option, and it's an excellent choice.
CHN: How much of an option was the NCHC?
Christopher: I don't want to get into any specifics of conversations with other athletic directors or commissioners. Obviously we've had a lot of phone calls over the last several week. But the NCHC was part of the conversation. Clearly at the end of the day, they had their parameters.
CHN: This isn't meant to insult Bowling Green — and you solidified your program since two years ago — but was the NCHC an option for you, or were they not interested because of your financial status or what not.
Christopher: The finances weren't really part of the decision process. That's a bridge we crossed about three years ago. Regardless of the direction we had gone, the institutional support was there. That wasn't the question. It came down to which option was fully developed. ... We couldn't wait for something that may not ever be there. And we won't apologize for the WCHA, which is a solid and competitive league, and on-ice (factors) is what's driving our decision.
CHN: Was the Atlantic Hockey option not possible in the timeframe, or just not feasible at all.
Christopher: We did have conversations with schools to our East, we did have conversations with schools to our West. The WCHA option was the one that was most completely developed.
CHN: How do you feel about how all of this has played out? Was this all inevitable?
Christopher: Once Penn State was put into place, it set into motion a series of dominoes falling that I don't think anyone should be surprised by. Somehow, some way, we knew we'd get to this point. Not this exact way, but we knew there'd be changes. No one should be surprised. One thing I wish — the hockey world is a little different than other sports. There is a collegial nature to what I've witnessed and seen. In the (annual) meetings in Naples (Florida), when everyone is there, it's great. I wish we could've made these moves in a more collaborative effort. But at the end of the day, if everyone was in one room and worked together, it may have still wound up exactly where we are, but it may have been better.
CHN: The issue, of course, is there is no one grand poobah in charge of everything, and so getting everyone on the same page, and putting aside individual agendas, is really hard. And so when push comes to shove, schools are unsure, and just wind up figuring they'll do what's in their best interest at the time.
Christopher: Yeah, it's difficult to manage that. And if nobody is going to manage that, you're left to individual schools and individual people making decisions and tangents that some follow and some don't follow. You see that play out at a higher level in football and basketball, and in hockey in a much more narrow version.
CHN: Is it like football and basketball where everything seems to be driven by maximizing profit?
Christopher: I don't know if it's profit. I'm not sure that's the word I would use. You'd have to speak to each school to see what's driving their decisions. People are looking for the best home, what's best competitively. There are other things — the type of institution, geography to some degree. Each school has a little different reason for what they did and why they did it.
CHN: Are you saddened to lose being in the same league with MAC rivals Western Michigan and Miami?
Christopher: I don't know we won't be playing them. There's a lot of talk playing them non-conference, because of existing rivalries and geography. I guess we haven't gotten that far yet. But we fully expect to keep playing Big Ten schools and MAC schools.
CHN: Of course, will you get home games out of that? That's the issue.
Christopher: Time will tell on that. What we're hearing is they want to continue to play us and playing at Bowling Green is not out of the question. Personally I have my doubts. Where hockey is headed is not terribly different than where football and basketball went three decades ago. The larger schools that are getting 6-to-7-thousand-plus (attendance per game), it's awfully tough for those schools to leave their building. I wouldn't be surprised if in five to 10 years, the conversation becomes a little more one-sided. "I would love to play you, but if you want to play us it will have to be up there."
CHN: What could've been different?
Christopher: The only thing I think could've happened is, if everyone was sitting around the table, perhaps what plays out different is the timing. And maybe it doesn't drag out or drip out the way it did. Perhaps it gets done in a more systematic manner. ... I don't pretend to be an expert in this. I don't know if anyone is an expert in this. I don't think it was necessarily a bad process overall. I mean no offense to you or anyone, but when you have this public desire to know what's going on, it adds perhaps a layer of pressure or anxiety to those in the middle of it, to make decisions more quickly.
CHN: Was there ever really any hope of the CCHA and WCHA making it work with the Big Ten teams, or was the Big Ten creation inevitable.
Christopher: Their messaging almost instantly was, that's now how they were operating with any other sport and it won't be with hockey either. Once there was six schools, it met their minimum, and that's what they had done with any other sport. They were moving forward as a standalone conference.
CHN: You're known as someone who was trying to push different ideas. Has it been frustrating that none of these idea worked out and everything just sort of happened so fast?
Christopher: I wouldn't say that all the ideas we pushed into the system (were overlooked). I think you may see some of them play out with time. I don't feel frustrated at all. It's been a great dialogue, it's been a great engagement. College hockey will be fine and Bowling Green will be fine. We're excited.
CHN: Are we done, or can we expect more?
Christopher: Well, Huntsville is still out there, and there will be a resolution with (University at) Buffalo. Those are the obvious ones. Maybe there's some other things. The WCHA — we've already talked internally about whether we want to be at nine or some other number. It's more a long-term conversation.
CHN: Does Huntsville have hope in that regard?
Christopher: I don't know what the plan is yet with the other WCHA members, or commissioner Bruce McLeod. I know we supported Huntsville being part of the CCHA when that came up a couple of years ago.
One thing we're excited about going forward is that we've been selected to host an NCAA Regional in 2013. We'll co-host in a new arena in downtown Toledo. So that's another reason we're excited about the future of our program.