Rumors began in earnest on Friday when it was reported that the delay in Bowling Green deciding to join the WCHA was the result of the Falcons being in talks with four Atlantic Hockey schools and the University at Buffalo about forming their own hockey conference. Buffalo has since confirmed they are exploring their options with regards to Division I hockey.
The first issue is whether Buffalo can even get this off the ground. There's been plenty of excitement about teams looking into the possibility of starting new programs, whether it was at Minnesota State Moorhead, or Lindenwood, or Kenesaw State(okay, I don't know that many people had high hopes for that one). The Bulls could have the advantage of receiving some big-time funding to help get them off the ground. Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs is an active alum of the schools and may be willing to donate the money necessary to get the program off the ground. Meanwhile, it has been reported that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula has been interested in building a new practice facility for the Sabres that would also be used as a new rink for Canisius College. Canisius is only about seven miles from UB's main campus. I'm sure there's a multitude of logistics to work out, but perhaps the two schools could share one very nice building.
Making the huge assumption that we can get past that first step, there's still the issue I brought up on Friday, which is that a six-team conference is a fairly dangerous proposition, especially with a new program in Buffalo, and one that has been in serious danger recently like Bowling Green. One potential insurance against that would be aligning with the WCHA to form some form of bloated....*ahem* "mega"-conference. More on that later.
Meanwhile the battle to save Alabama-Huntsville's hockey program wages on. Interim chancellor Malcolm Portera wants UAH's Division I hockey program to cost as much as their Division II softball program. You read that correctly.
The most interesting part of the article, however, came from WCHA commissioner-for-now Bruce McLeod, whose full comments you can read here.
McLeod said the best hope for Alabama-Huntsville being admitted to the WCHA is if the conference had more than 12(!) members. More than 12 teams would imply the possibility of the WCHA agreeing to take on Bowling Green and the other AHA schools looking to offer full scholarships.
Why would they do that? Those schools Bowling Green and east would get the added stability of being in a conference nowhere near losing their automatic bid, while the WCHA would get the benefit of forming two divisions and sticking an Alaska school in each, thus limiting the number of Alaska trips each team would have to make to one a year. Though really, is Minneapolis to Anchorage really that much worse than Minneapolis to Buffalo or Huntsville? It would also give the WCHA a number of full D-I members, which would have some benefits. Plus, a 16-team WCHA would make getting Groupons so much easier for those schools.
But ultimately, and maybe this ship has already sailed, but a move like that doesn't do much more than cement the WCHA's standing as the new College Hockey America, and unfortunately, that's a model that I think we've all seen just isn't feasible as a long-term solution.