When the Big Ten made its not-so-surprising announcement on March 21 of its intentions to rob the Central Collegiate Hockey Association of Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in order to form its own NCAA Division I hockey league, the eight remaining CCHA schools stood together despite cries of their eventual demise.
Two days later when commissioner Tom Anastos revealed he too was bolting the CCHA to become the head coach of a future Big Ten hockey conference institution in East Lansing, the league again remained strong and ready for a fresh start.
Something changed, though, last week in Naples, Fla., and fans of Northern Michigan University hockey should be worried.
The league took a step backward this week with the announcement of Fred Pletsch as the league's fifth commissioner, but the slide has nothing to do with Fred. It has everything to do with the length of his contract.
Pletsch was named interim commissioner when Anastos bolted for Michigan State. Fred was the leading candidate to succeed Tom and an obvious choice to guide the league into the future. His promotion from associate commissioner to interim commissioner and finally to commissioner at the league meetings in April came as no surprise.
What did jump out, however, was the length of Pletsch's contract, which is only for two years. That means the CCHA may not only be without the Wolverines, Spartans and Buckeyes after the 2012-13 season, but without a leader in the league offices as well.
But will that be all?
After a month of stewing over playing a league minus the Big Ten schools, some institutions appear to be reconsidering their place in college hockey. While the Buckeyes, Wolverines and Spartans play against Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota on the Big Ten Network week in and week out, Notre Dame could be stuck online on B2 Networks against Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State.
That's not very appealing for a school that's not only opening its own state-of-the-art rink this season, but also used to watching its football team nationally on NBC each week.
The Fighting Irish are not alone, however. The Mid-American Conference schools of Miami, Western Michigan and Bowling Green are rethinking their relationship with traditional Division II schools like Ferris State and Alaska as well.
Broncos head coach Jeff Bashill didn't receive a $100,000 raise in his salary to $275,000 a year on April 25 in order to keep him out of Happy Valley. That was Western's way of saying, "Judy Bailey isn't holding this athletic department back anymore. We're just as committed to hockey as the Big Ten and Notre Dame."
Fortunately for schools like NMU - and unfortunately for the Broncos, Falcons and RedHawks - the MAC schools' attendance and revenues are closer to the GLIAC than the Big Ten.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, is a sleeping giant.
Just like in college football recently, Notre Dame is the linchpin. Should the Fighting Irish determine the CCHA is not for them, look for the complete landscape of college hockey to be blown up from coast to coast featuring conferences made up exclusively of Division I schools while Division II and III institutions are reduced to nothing but afterthoughts.
Should the Irish remain, look for college hockey to retain some semblance of its current state.
I have my doubts, however, that Notre Dame will put others ahead of itself, do what's best for college hockey and respect the sport's long tradition with the little guy - even though one in Minnesota-Duluth did just win the national championship.
The CCHA must have its doubts too. Otherwise it would have signed Pletsch to a contract longer than two years and the league's tag line wouldn't have changed from "A Fresh Start" to "A Degree of Uncertainty" overnight.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.