clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Ugly Reality of the Alaska Plan

Nobody seems particularly impressed with the WCHA's proposed plan of having the two Alaska schools play each other annually in the playoffs, including the people that thought it up. Though the league voted on and passed the proposal, they're apparently still open to ideas, and will hold a conference call next week to see if anyone could come up with something better.

It also didn't help matters that the league office requested that all schools direct any inquiries about the playoff system to the league office, only to have commissioner-for-now Bruce McLeod give out wrong information about the tournament format. You can't make that stuff up. How anyone in the WCHA league office still has a job is beyond me. For the record, the two Alaska schools will meet in the playoffs every year, unless one of the Alaska schools wins the league, in which case they would get a bye to the Final Five.

There's been a lot of criticism of that format, and perhaps rightfully so. But anyone criticizing this plan also has to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Ever since the two Alaska schools joined major conferences in the early '90s, the question has been asked thousands of times: Why wouldn't the two Alaska schools just be in the same conference? And the answer every time was the same: It would be too difficult economically if both Alaska schools were in the same conference. Instead, the burden was spread out and lessened. And that was with college hockey's heavy-hitters spread out among the two major western conferences.

Now, with the upcoming conference changes, the entirety of that burden is expected to be handled by the seven smallest programs in the west. It wasn't realistic to think those schools would be able to do that without making some potentially ugly concessions. It looks bad for college hockey, but that's one of the consequences of the way college hockey chose to realign itself.

It's also worth noting that while cost was a huge factor in this decision, there's also a fairly legitimate logistical concern, in that it's very difficult to buy 25 plane tickets to Alaska on a Saturday or Sunday night for the following Wednesday or Thursday. Two years ago, when Michigan State had to travel to Fairbanks for the playoffs, the Spartans weren't able to fly out of Detroit, and instead had to bus to Chicago, where the team had to be spread out over multiple flights to make the trip.

All in all, it's a pretty ugly situation, but it just might be the best the WCHA is able to do given the circumstances. Nobody seems happy with the current decision, but at the same time, nobody has presented a better possible alternative.