Piecing Together a New World for College Hockey

Western Michigan made a pretty aggressive pitch to join the Secondary Six with the creation of a site called WhyWestern.com which chronicles what Western would bring to the table of newly-formed conference of strong college hockey programs. It focuses on Western giving the conference a foothold in the talent-rich state of Michigan, as well as their location in the 41st biggest TV market in the country. I've long held that Western Michigan brings a lot more to the table than Miami. If nothing else, this at least shows some initiative on Western Michigan's part and that they want to be a major program and not risk a future in the CCHA.

Meanwhile, the future is looking grimmer and grimmer for the CCHA, with Notre Dame clearly moving somewhere else, Western Michigan openly campaigning to join the Secondary Six, and Northern Michigan saying they were exploring joining the WCHA. There doesn't seem to be a lot of confidence in the conference's future. If they did lose Western Michigan and Northern Michigan, that would leave Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, and Lake Superior left without a home.

There's been a lot of talk that the CCHA's future lies in joining up with the remaining WCHA schools to form a new conference, but a much more natural fit from a geographic and perhaps competitive standpoint would be joining up with a few of Atlantic Hockey's stronger programs that may be interested in offering a full amount of scholarships. A conference of Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior, Mercyhurst, Robert Morris, and Niagara maybe isn't ideal, but also isn't a terrible fit. Atlantic Hockey is currently at 12 teams, and losing a few doesn't change their place in the college hockey pecking order. If I was Fred Pletsch, I'd be going after those Atlantic Hockey schools hard right now. Ideally, this is the spot Alabama-Huntsville makes the most sense as well, though I have the feeling that this new shake-up is going to make it even tougher for the Chargers to find a conference.

The only sticking point there is what to do with Alaska. The Nanooks aren't a great geographical fit, but then again, they aren't going to be a good geographic fit anywhere. Potentially joining the WCHA would seem to be the best fit, but has the problem of both Alaska schools in the same conference. Adding an eighth team, perhaps a Ferris State or Lake Superior(or Western Michigan if they can't join Secondary Six), would give the option of forming two four-team divisions--Anchorage, Bemidji, Mankato, St. Cloud in one, and Alaska, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, eighth team in other--which could reduce the number of times teams have to travel to Alaska twice in a season. Everyone would likely have to travel to Alaska every year, and I doubt the Alaska schools would still pay for teams to travel there since the balance of power has shifted and conferences need them just as bad as they need conferences. But it would give every team an extra two non-conference games to schedule, presumably against the big name schools that left them behind.

Incidentally, Alaska did get some good news this week, when the Alaska state government approved some big money for renovations to their arena. Their facility would seem to make them more of a fit for the WCHA.

If that's confusing, here's what I think would be the most logical set-up given last week's rather illogical shake-up:

Big Ten- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin

The Page 8s: North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, Notre Dame, Western Michigan

New WCHA: West Division: Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, East Division: Alaska, Lake Superior, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan

New CCHA: Bowling Green, Ferris State, Mercyhurst, Niagara, Robert Morris, Canisius

If Notre Dame decided Hockey East would be a better fit, Western Michigan would either take Lake Superior's spot in the new WCHA, or Canisius' spot in the new CCHA.

There's definitely issues to be worked out, but that's about as best as I can piece the jigsaw pieces together. There would be a ton of scheduling headaches to work through, We'd also be up to seven automatic NCAA bids. That doesn't leave very many at-large bids, especially if, as I've argued they should, the NCAA brings the tournament field back to 12 teams if a school or two drops the sport. I suppose that's one way to inject excitement into the Secondary Six's conference tournament.

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