October 6, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

The Jury is Out

by Justin Magill/CHN Writer

The college hockey season is here, but the dust has barely settled on the most tumultuous offseason in the sport's history.

When Penn State announced it would begin hockey in the 2012-13 season, immediate talks of a Big Ten conference erupted, with two of the WCHA’s national powers going there. From there, more than half the conference went en masse to a new league, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC).

While the Western part of the game planned significant changes, conferences out East remained intact and uninterrupted — that is until Notre Dame decided to make its move.

Unwilling to stand pat after the creation of the Big Ten would leave it in a watered down CCHA, the Irish waited to make a move until after the NCHC was created. Ultimately, the Irish decided on Hockey East to be with perennial national title contenders Boston University, Boston College, New Hampshire and Maine, to name a few.

With all of the changes that are going on, one has to wonder if it will be good for the game of hockey.

For teams joining the Big Ten, there is the Big Ten Network (BTN), meaning the possibility of having numerous college hockey games broadcasted on national television.

“It was inevitable that it was going to happen,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said. “With the Big Ten Network, a station that can broadcast nationally, after football and basketball, the next change that made sense was men’s ice hockey, so I think people had an idea it was coming without it being said.

“There is good that comes from it because there is a place people can go to watch college hockey. We never really had that nationally. Once again, time is the major factor, so we will see if it turns out well for our game.”

Wisconsin, along with Minnesota of the WCHA, will leave prior to the 2013 season and be with Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State in the new Big Ten.

Unfortunately, this left WCHA schools such as North Dakota, Denver and the defending national champions, Minnesota-Duluth, without two of its biggest schools.

Instead of full-borne panic mode, the NCHC was formed with the aforementioned three schools, along with Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State.

Additionally, Miami and Western Michigan will jump on board.

“I have to think it will be good,” Eaves said. “You had a lot of WCHA schools that didn’t know what was going to happen after us and Minnesota left, but there are a lot of good teams in the WCHA, including the team that just won the national championship, sot that will be a very tough conference as well.”

It appeared just about every conference went through changes during the offseason, but Hockey East was pretty quiet until now.

In two years, the CCHA will no longer be a part of college hockey, and there was Notre Dame, needing to make a choice.

“Once the Big Ten was formed, there was obviously a lot of speculation about conferences forming to put national powers together or whatever,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “To me, it's more about the balance and what we're trying to do here.

“I think it's about the balance of playing with like-minded institutions, Division I schools as much as possible, and the other part of it is to have the same values of programs that we have as far as the importance of balance in the student athlete's life, whether it be academics or hockey and their social environment.”

Much like the Big Ten, there is a television network deal involved, which will help expose not only Irish hockey, but college hockey in general.

Those details are still being worked out, but NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) wll carry Notre Dame hockey games, similar to what is done for its home football games.

“Hockey East was obviously the best choice for us,” Jackson said. “The thing it's going to do for us is allow our program to become even more national than it has been in the past, with a national television deal with NBC Sports, with the ability in which to play more non-conference games with Hockey East's commitment to playing a smaller conference schedule. Something that they chose to do well before we came along.”

When the 2013 season begins, there is no doubt about the game being more exposed and perhaps more people following in order to keep track of all the changes that have occurred.

In the end, time will tell if the major moves made to the game will be good or if it was just for broadcast deals and more money in the bank.

“We will see,” Eaves said. “Right now, we do not know. There is no crystal ball to tell us what exactly what is going to happen in the future.

“Like I said, I think a lot of us saw this coming, so that part is not really a shock. I think the game will get more exposure, which is good, but we have to wait and see if all this shifting will be good.”

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