I was in the camp of people that thought it was pretty much a given that Alabama-Huntsville would get in to the CCHA, and judging by some of the reaction I've read, it was a pretty popular camp.
I viewed the big hurdles as cramming Robert Morris and Niagara into one of the eastern conferences, and they found a way to make that work, and getting the WCHA to admit Bemidji, which they finally did. Huntsville to the CCHA seemed like a natural fit, especially once everything shook out the way it did, that it almost seemed like a given. That's what makes last week's decision so shocking and so shameful for the CCHA.
I don't want to pick specifically on Alaska athletic director Forest Karr since he seemed to be the only one to go on the record about some of the issues, but I'll go through the issues with UAH that he mentioned.
Issue 1: "Lack of Commitment"
These guys have run an NCAA hockey program in freaking Alabama for 25 years. You don't do that by accident. After losing a legendary coach to retirement, they went out and hired a pretty big name coach to replace him. They've been consistently screwed out of home games since virtually nobody will agree to come down there to play them, and still find a way to make things work. This all looks pretty committed to me.
Issue 2: "A firm agreement with the facility"
Just to clear this up, I've seen this get condensed down to "facilities" in a couple different places, and I don't think the issue is with the Von Braun Center itself. How could it be when the CCHA has arenas like this, or this, or this.
The issue seems to be that UAH doesn't own the facility, and thus, doesn't have complete control over scheduling ice time. A bit of an issue, but hardly a dealbreaker. When Minnesota State traveled to Huntsville in 2007, they were bumped from their Thursday night skate for a Willie Nelson concert and had to play their second game on Saturday afternoon to clear out for the Huntsville Havoc's season opener. Not ideal, but honestly, no that bad either. The worst part for them was probably having to sit through the highly disappointing movie American Gangster on Saturday night when they couldn't catch an earlier flight.
When you look at the sacrifices the rest of college hockey has made, it's hard to feel too sorry about a couple potential scheduling issues.
Issue 3: "Low attendance"
Huntsville had a better average attendance than Miami last season. I have not heard anyone in the CCHA complain about Miami's low attendance.
The Chargers were 31st nationally in average attendance, ahead of five CCHA teams(Miami, Lake Superior, Western, Bowling Green, and Ferris), and were 150 total people shy of having the same average attendance as Notre Dame.
And it's important to keep in mind that that attendance number comes from a rousing home schedule of two games against Bemidji, four against Robert Morris, and four against Niagara. And a very weird home schedule that had only two home games before January. Imagine swapping some of those home games for two games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Notre Dame. I guarantee you'd get at least an extra 150 people over the course of a season to catch Notre Dame in average attendance.
Issue 4: "Not Being a Major Recruiting Market"
Huntsville's recruiting market isn't all that different from the recruiting market for a number of CCHA programs: there's one solid AAA program(TPH Thunder) that spits out a couple good players, and not much else.
Nic Dowd, who grew up playing in the Huntsville Amateur Hockey Association, recently committed to St. Cloud and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings this summer. It's maybe not a "major" recruiting market, nor a traditional recruiting market, but it's certainly a developing market, that the CCHA is helping to kill if they allow UAH's program to fade.
Issue 5: "The general economic crisis across the country"
Perhaps valid, but again, the rest of college hockey found a way to make it work.
Issue 6: "Student-athlete welfare"/Missed class time.
This isn't quite as laughable as when college football people trot out this as a reason against a playoff system, but it's close. Every example I can think of has a team leaving a day early for a road trip in order to get settled in and get an extra practice, as opposed to a team choosing to leave later so they don't miss much class time.
Plus, the last two teams admitted into the CCHA were from Nebraska and Alaska, and the rest of the league found a way to deal. That cat came out of the bag a long time ago.
Karr closed his comments by saying, "The last thing anyone wants to see is the loss of any Division I college hockey program." Apparently there are at least 3 schools in the CCHA that don't feel that way. There's a lot of minor quibbles in there, but nothing so earth-shattering that it made sense to deny UAH.
Hopefully this isn't over, and I can't shake my initial feeling that there's something else at play here. Perhpas the league is waiting to see what the make-up of the conference looks like after this next season, before taking another vote. In any case, everyone else in college hockey has done the right thing by accepting the remaining members of the CHA. Now it's time to get the CCHA to do the right thing for college hockey.