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College hockey conference realignment a waste of time

September 26, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

Anyone else feel like college hockey wasted everyone's time this summer?

After this past week's latest episode of "All my Conferences," I sure do.

Instead of hiking up Hogsback or throwing a Frisbee with my dog, Roxie, on the beaches of Little Presque Isle, I was chasing the story of the summer in our small segment of college sports.

But what was really accomplished? How different is the landscape of college hockey?

Let's review this summer's events, starting with the complex version.

In March, the Big Ten made an announcement we all saw coming since the formation of a program at Penn State - the conference would begin sponsoring a college hockey conference featuring the Nittany Lions, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State.

April, May and June appeared to be quiet months, but while many put the formation of the Big Ten in the back of our minds - the start of the league was still two years away - six schools panicked. They feared of becoming irrelevant because they weren't in the group of six schools who would be playing occasionally on an obscure regional cable network when a basketball or football game isn't available to broadcast.

So in July, North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and Miami announced the formation of the National College Hockey Conference to less fanfare than the opening of a used car dealership.

They declared themselves college hockey's elite, touted the strength of the Omaha, Grand Forks and Oxford television markets and then had a snack break.

Facing extinction with only five teams, the WCHA welcomed an old friend back to the league - Northern Michigan University- within a week of the NCHC's formation. By the end of August, the WCHA had thrown life rafts to the remaining CCHA schools.

Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Alaska-Fairbanks couldn't move quickly enough to accept the offers.

This past week, the NCHC decided to expand. It did not, however, get is prized possession in Notre Dame, which like Bowling Green State, remains homeless.

Instead, Western Michigan and St. Cloud (Minn.) State were declared cool enough to join the Secondary Six's club, 10 weeks after being deemed inadequate.

And we're not done - believe it or not - with the 2011-12 regular season just 12 days away. Notre Dame still has not made up its mind and BGSU is attempting to start another new conference with some ambitious schools in Atlantic Hockey - stay tuned.

Isn't all of this confusing? How about I give you the simple explanation of how this could have played out, but didn't.

Hitting the magic number of six, the Big Ten decided to form its own league.

Unhappy about being left out of the Big Ten, the WCHA fired commissioner Bruce McLeod and jettisoned its four "lesser" programs in Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State and Minnesota State-Mankato because they were holding back the rest of the league.

The WCHA then lured Miami and Western Michigan from the CCHA and spent a boat load of cash on an expensive consulting firm, which told the league to change its name to the NCHC because TV networks might like that name better.

Having lost Miami and WMU - and with Notre Dame and Bowling Green wanting to leave as well - the CCHA decided to team with McLeod and the four shunned schools to create the "new" WCHA.

Why change the name? Well, duh, the WCHA has cooler trophies than the CCHA.

Scenario No. 2 seems much more efficient, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it was too honest and lacked the fanfare of what actually took place.

Neither of these scenarios needed to take place, but a select few programs failed to keep their egos in check.

Some will tout that college hockey took a step forward this summer. Others fear the sport took a step back. I think college hockey went nowhere.

There was a divide between the haves and have-nots in the WCHA and CCHA, and there will continue to be divides in the Big Ten, WCHA and NCHC.

Thankfully, those divides can be bridged on the ice as Bemidji State and RPI have shown in recent years by reaching the Frozen Four.

It's time to put this summer's mess of an offseason behind us and focus on what happens on the ice rather than off it.

That's where my attention is heading. I welcome you to join me.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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