As expected, Western Michigan and St. Cloud both announced their intentions to join the new Page 8 Conference in separate press conferences on Thursday. It's tough to blame either school for doing what they felt they had to do to survive. Western Michigan ran their Why Western slideshow again, showing their commitment to hockey, while St. Cloud proudly displayed the designs for their new gift shop, which showed my commitment to paying my taxes. Still, it's disappointing that college hockey can't do better than having a selected few of their existing teams jumping for life rafts while nearly every other hockey league in North America has found ways to expand in recent history.
Anyway, the past few days seem to have raised many questions about the future for college hockey. Here's a few that I have.
-Today was supposed to be the deadline for CCHA teams to accept the WCHA's offer to join the conference. Bowling Green was the only team that has yet to respond, and have instead asked for, and been granted an extension by the WCHA . But the question is: If Bowling Green is considering not joining the WCHA, what is their alternative? The article mentions some other teams also being considered for WCHA membership, but that wouldn't seem to influence Bowling Green's decision when there is likely no other alternative regardless of who is in the WCHA. Perhaps they could cobble together a conference with four other AHA schools that want to offer 18 scholarships and Alabama-Huntsville, but that doesn't exactly scream stability. Being an independent team is an impossibility. The only other real alternative would seem to be dropping the program altogether. This delay feels a lot like a "Is this really worth it?" type of decision. Hopefully an announcement comes that they're joining the WCHA as soon as possible.
Speaking of deadlines, there's now about three weeks left in the three-month fundraising drive for Minnesota State Moorhead to start a program, but would Minnesota State Moorhead want to start a program even if they could? In Moorhead's first attempt at starting a program when Bemidji State was looking for a partner to join the league with, it was made pretty clear that the Dragons needed to join the WCHA for that to be viable. The same was said when Minnesota State wanted to start a Division I program, and when Bemidji State wanted to be a Division I program with a 4000-seat city-owned arena. Now, those programs have to find a way to make things work without being members of what is basically the old WCHA. Mankato and Bemidji may have enough momentum from their time in D-1 to continue on, at least for a while, but that makes things all the more difficult for Moorhead to get off the ground.
On that note, this is a question I first asked when the NCHC was formed, and will ask again as this continues to play out: Five years from now, will there be more or less than 60 teams playing Division I college hockey? George Gwozdecky said at the initial NCHC press conference, presented by Kinko's, that this could be good for college hockey because it promoted expansion--though apparently not in his conference, which seems intent on closingtheir doors to anyone but Notre Dame now. All that remains is a pretty loose amalgamation of remaining teams in the west that looks rickety at best. Not exactly the most attractive offer for any aspiring program, not that any exist. My guess is the number of teams will be closer to 55. For what it's worth, at 55 teams, a greater percentage college hockey teams would make the NCAA tournament in a 12-team field than the percentage of teams that make the Division I basketball tournament.
The WCHA released a statement today expressing their disappointment in St. Cloud leaving. WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said the league will "solider on" which, wow, way to inspire confidence. So why does Bruce McLeod still have a job? The WCHA has gone from the strongest league in college hockey to soldiering on as nearly the weakest thanks to 50% of the league deciding to withdraw from the league and create their own league together. That's a failure of colossal proportions. I guess it might be tough with three-quarters of the current membership abstaining from any voting as they gaze on to greener pastures. It's hard to imagine a commissioner doing any less while his league crumbles around him.
Far be it from me to imply that these people would do anything shady or underhanded behind closed doors for their own benefit at the expense of others (again). But, if a freshman at a future WCHA school gets off to a good start this year, how soon before coaches from the Haves start giving that player the wink and the nod? That player would sit out the final lame duck year of conference play, before having three years of eligibility left to play major conference hockey. I doubt anyone would question those players wanting to transfer. Of course, if that did happen, I'm sure the NCHC coaches would be, like, totally committed to pledging to help those WCHA programs find new players.