It was another gorgeous week at the Summer Dog House, but the college hockey world remains in motion—and in turmoil. Here are some of the latest happenings.
Michigan State Delays Munn Arena Construction
In a sign of what lies in the immediate future for many college hockey programs, Michigan State has stopped work on a major renovation project for Munn Arena in East Lansing. According to an article in the Lansing State Journal, 19 construction projects on the Spartan campus are being put on hold due to financial strains created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
MSU had planned to spend $23 million to improve locker rooms, add state-of-the-art training facilities, improve offices for staff and create a Hall of Fame wing. This is the kind of stuff needed to stay competitive in D1 these days, and Munn Arena hasn’t been improved in many years. With a $7.5 million shortfall in the construction budget—and insufficient fund-raising to go forward at this time—the MSU administration will allow just enough additional work to enclose open areas.
This Isn’t Just About MSU and Munn Arena
After Alabama-Huntsville’s cash-driven but reversed withdrawal from college hockey, MSU’s decision is almost certainly another sign of things to come in big-time college sports. There likely won’t be many spectators (if any) at college football games, even if the games are played this fall. Games that require overnight travel are already being cancelled and replaced with tilts against nearby schools. In the last few days, talk of moving football to the spring of 2021 has become a hot topic.
All of that means that the mega-bucks driven by televised NCAA football will be delayed—at least—and it’s not inconceivable that big media may put pressure on the NCAA and the Power Five conferences to renegotiate existing broadcast contracts.
Add to that the pinch universities are feeling on enrollments and tuition (at least 60 universities and colleges are being sued in class-actions to recover tuition for the loss of in-person instruction), and the money machine that fuels college athletics is going to have a rough go of it unless and until the pandemic is brought under control.
Finally, and probably the most important, is that more than a handful of big-time football programs are reporting that a dozen or more returning athletes, most of them football players, have tested positive for COVID-19. This is an ominous turn of events, and The Old Dog won’t even try to guess how the next two months will unfold.
Tech Adds Games Against the Badgers
Meanwhile, the Michigan Tech Athletic Department announced that all ticket sales for fall sports, including season tickets for Husky games at the JMac, are on hold due to the “unique and continually evolving situation.” Even so, Tech and Wisconsin have announced that they have scheduled a series down in Madison on October 3-4 this fall. When the Badgers and Denver couldn’t agree on scheduling to work around a UW football game, Wisconsin looked to find another opponent to fill their schedule. Tech was available, due to the exemption against total game limits for games played in Alaska, and Tech is scheduled for four games in the 49th state this coming season.
Will this Huskies-Badgers series even be played?
The Huskies, like many D1 hockey programs that don’t have an FBS football program, are less dependent on the income that sport provides. But the budget pressure is real in Houghton, too. Ask any MTU staff member that has taken a pay cut, or one of the employees furloughed earlier this year when live classes were terminated early.
UAH Keeps Charging
As a result of The Old Dog’s contribution to the Alabama-Huntsville Go-Fund-Me campaign to save Charger Hockey, I was invited to sit in on a large Zoom meeting held by the campaign organizers last week. Not quite 100 people were Zoomed in for the session, including many former players and interim coach Lance West. (West did not speak out during the session.)
This group is intent on not only saving UAH hockey, but pushing it to become a serious contender in the national scheme of things. With more than $750K raised in their campaign, and the balance from the University of Alabama system, they will have a total budget of $1.4 million and be able to cover expenses for the coming season.
However, they also believe the Chargers need to raise their budget to $2.3 million per year to be successful in the long term. To accomplish this, they have a target of selling 3,000 season tickets for the coming year, an extremely aggressive goal. For reference, Minnesota State leads the WCHA with over 4,000 season ticket sales. They are also seeking corporate support from local businesses, and there are many large corporations with a presence in Huntsville due to NASA’S Marshall Space Flight Center.
They also have promises of support from both the Havoc (the local Southern Professional Hockey League team) and the Nashville Predators. The Preds have even suggested hosting a couple of Chargers games in Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville.
I wouldn’t sell this group short. The leaders are mostly former UAH players and some of the comments during the call were quite animated. “We’re going to go down fighting” was one of those remarks. Another former player was even more impassioned. He asked the other Charger alumni where they would be if not for UAH hockey—and his answer was “probably in Alberta pumping gas.”
Like everything else in society at this juncture, we’ll just have to see how things turn out. The nation seems to be slowly moving toward the most disruptive period in American society since the Great Influenza of 1918-19, and NCAA hockey is being swept up in the historic trend that is unfolding.
Competitive Balance in College Hockey
As a final note, there was an excellent article in College Hockey News this week by P. A. Jensen. In his analysis, Jensen goes deep into results for the past five years to show which conferences were the most and least competitive. The WCHA and the NCHC were the least competitive, while Hockey East and the Big Ten were the most competitive, based on Jensen’s method of comparison.
The main reason that the WCHA is ranked as less competitive is Minnesota State’s heavy dominance of the regular season. Jensen does dig into the Mavericks, though, as he noted that their supremacy “has not translated to success at the national level” which is an understatement.
The method Jensen used to draw his conclusion is quite interesting, and anyone who loves statistics and sports will find this worth reading.