Monday Night Leftovers: An Analysis of Conference Possibilities

The WCHA is left with Michigan Tech, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Mankato, and Alaska-Anchorage.  The remaining CCHA schools will include rival Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Alaska-Fairbanks, Ferris State, Western Michigan (if they don’t join Notre Dame in the “Super” conference), and Bowling Green State.  Finally, independent Alabama-Huntsville has managed to survive and is still looking for a home. The easiest and most obvious solution is that 5+6 equals an eleven-team conference, so the two should just merge and add Huntsville to get to an even 12.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy.  To begin, there is a glaring scheduling issue with having both Alaska teams in the same conference, though it would be solvable with divisioning.  For instance:

WCHA West: St. Cloud, Bemidji, Mankato, Tech, Northern, Anchorage

WCHA East: LSSU, Western, Ferris, Bowling Green, AL-Huntsville, Fairbanks

This could be setup so that you play two series, home and away, against your five divisional opponents for 20 games.  Then, you make the Alaska schools, Huntsville, and LSSU happier by letting everyone designate a rival from the other division that you play two series with every year, bringing the total to 24 games.  To get back to 28 league games, the remaining four games are filled out by rotating one home and one away series with two additional cross-division teams each season.  It’s messy and likely results in fewer home games for everyone, but it can work for now.  The CCHA ‘cluster’ method of scheduling could also be adopted, but I’m not going to go into detail on that scenario.  In this case, everyone gets their rivals (except for those schools whose rivals were the B1G programs).  Everyone gets an Alaska exemption each year and gets to schedule two extra non-conference games.  It looks reasonably competitive, and Tech offers up the grandest trophy in college sports as the conference hardware, which Denver and North Dakota will never see again, nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah, *raspberry*.

Unfortunately, five schools in the East division are left griping about a long trip to Alabama every year on top of their super long trip to Fairbanks.  We’ve already seen what happens with 11 & 12-team scheduling in both the CCHA and WCHA – it’s messy and complicated, and we’re all glad that we aren’t the person in charge of it.  This also leaves basically no room for expansion, though the likelihood of a non-B1G school in this region adding hockey in the next decade probably has about the same statistical probability as the Lions winning a Superbowl.

Some feel that the best route is to maintain two conferences with two autobids into the NCAA tournament.  This would begin with current Atlantic Hockey Association members Robert Morris, Niagara, Canisus, and possibly Mercyhurst.  RMU and NU are former CHA teams, forced into the AHA when that conference folded last year, who are annoyed with the AHA’s cost-containing athletic scholarship limits.  Canisus explored the CHA a few years back, but couldn’t get any assurance from Atlantic Hockey brass that they could return if that conference collapsed. Adding four teams gets the existing CCHA up to 9, and once everything shakes out we’d probably have something like this:

CCHA: WMU, Ferris, BGSU, AL-Huntsville, RMU, Niagara, Canisus, Mercyhurst

WCHA: LSSU, Northern, Tech, St. Cloud, Bemidji, Mankato, Anchorage, Fairbanks

In this scenario, the WCHA adds the other two UP schools and Fairbanks, then divides into North/South (or East/West) divisions to split up the Alaskas.  So we’d see something like this:

WCHA North/East: Tech, Northern, LSSU, Fairbanks

WCHA South/West: St. Cloud, Bemidji, Mankato, Anchorage

Now, I’m sure that Fairbanks isn’t going to be too happy about all those trips to the UP, so I doubt this is how the divisions are ultimately setup, but you get the idea.  Meanwhile, this would be a good opportunity for both conferences to shed some league games, and make more room for non-conference opponents.  Dropping to 20 or 22 conference games would make a scheduling agreement between the conferences quite feasible, and still leave room for schools to schedule other non-conference foes.

I can definitely see where it’s going to be hard for Western and Ferris to accept that version of the CCHA.  Their only common opponent from the old CCHA would be Bowling Green (whose program has been on shaky ground for years to boot), but this is how the two-conference plan would have to be setup from a standpoint of geography and travel, and I think a cross-conference scheduling agreement would help sell it.

It is obvious that new sites for the conference tournaments will need to be sought.  There is virtually no chance that any of these conferences would be able to sustain a Final Five tournament at the 18,064 seat Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.  Gopher, Sioux, and Badger fans have comprised the vast majority of ticket sales for that event, and none of them will be part of the new WCHA.  The much more reasonably-sized Resch Center in Green Bay (8,709 seats in hockey configuration) would be a solid choice for the one conference proposal, or the western conference if the two-conference model is adopted.  The “Final Five” model also doesn’t make much sense in any scenario, and I think it would be better to adopt the current CCHA Final Four with three games – two semis and the championship.  To be honest though, any discussions of details like this aren’t the immediate concern of any AD involved; I’m just putting it out there for debate.

Ultimately, it seems like the two-conference plan would be the best move, but it's obviously not my decision to make (thankfully), and despite the best intentions of every AD, I do worry that a few teams could get a raw deal.

Conferences So Far

View College Hockey 2013-2014 So Far in a larger map