Now that the Big Ten Hockey Conference has become a reality, it's become clear that the big story in college hockey over the coming months is how the rest of the college hockey world will realign itself in order to deal to with the new super-conference.
There's been a lot of ideas thrown out there, most notably the "Secondary Six" conference. But so far, nothing has really moved past the early exploratory phase. The most important school to keep an eye on throughout the realignment process may be Notre Dame.
Why Notre Dame? In January, Texas signed a groundbreaking $300 million 20-year deal with ESPN to form their own television network. Notre Dame is rumored to be looking into their own TV network. I'm not sure exactly how the details of that would work out, given that Notre Dame football is obviously the big draw there, and Notre Dame's contract with NBC runs until 2015. But keep in mind that the new Texas/ESPN network only has exclusive rights to one football game and eight men's basketball games. What a Notre Dame TV network would have is carte blanche over the school's "Olympic sports," of which hockey is clearly the biggest draw.
With their own TV network and the need to maximize viewership, Notre Dame would most likely be interested in creating a conference made up entirely of Division I schools. That wouldn't just mean the CCHA's remaining MAC schools, and possibly some others from out west, but also potentially schools like Providence and Boston College from the east.
If that sounds like a terrible idea for college hockey, it may be. But ultimately, any sort of realignment decisions are going to be made by people well above anyone involved in college hockey, and while they may take input, their jobs rely on making sure the bottom line is black, not necessarily doing what is best for a certain sport.
As I said, things are very far from being set in stone. I'm a bit skeptical, because as allegedly lucrative as these TV deals can be, I don't really see how the cost of joining a conference halfway across the country makes more financial sense than staying in a conference where everyone is pretty much a short bus trip away. But we'll see just how big of a financial carrot Notre Dame could potentially lay in front of those schools to try and lure them away.
Hopefully sanity prevails because I think most would agree that college hockey doesn't need a major reshuffling of the deck, but at a certain point, schools might also have to do what is best for themselves, even if it ends up not being the best for the game of college hockey.