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Alaska schools set to do battle in WCHA playoffs as new-look league looks to reign in costs

June 16, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - For now at least, the WCHA has found its postseason solution to financially weather the existence of two Alaska schools come 2013-14, however, the plan has left the league with an uneasy feeling going forward.

In the WCHA's nine-team playoff format that was announced Thursday, the Alaska Nanooks and Alaska Anchorage Seawolves will meet every year in the first round in a best-of-three series with the winner advancing to the WCHA's Final Five.

The only way that doesn't happen is if the Nanooks or Seawolves win the WCHA regular season championship. Then the other Alaska school would host or travel to the lower 48 states, depending on where it finishes in the league standings with seeds 2-5 hosting seeds 6-9 in a best-of-three series.

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No matter what, the MacNaughton Cup will earn a team an automatic spot in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five - which is still looking for a home.

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said Friday via phone from Minneapolis the plan was formally approved during the league meetings this week in Detroit, but the plan is already being revisited.

"I don't want to say that is set in stone because I can tell you this, there was definitely an uneasy feeling about it," McLeod said. "Certainly something out of the box, out of the norm, I would say. There was just an uneasy feeling about the whole thing."

The decision to scrap bracket integrity and pit the Alaskan rivals against each other year in and year out will save the league a substantial amount of money having to only fly one team to and from Alaska every postseason.

McLeod detailed a worse-case financial scenario where the Nanooks and Seawolves both finish between second and fifth in the WCHA and host playoff series, meaning the league - which shares the financial burden of the playoffs among its nine members - would have to fly two schools to and from Alaska. Should both the Seawolves and Nanooks win their series, that's two more round-trip packages the league would have to spring for.

"Whenever you do anything out of the normal playoff brackets ... there's consequences for it. We're well aware of that," McLeod said.

"The athletic directors have to wrestle with the financial realities of this conference. If there was concerns about them before - now they are both in one conference - now those concerns have doubled.

"It may not taste very good, it may not seem very good, but that is just reality."

McLeod said the league has already secured additional regular and postseason travel concessions from UAF and UAA and if it wants to keep both of those programs financially viable, as well as the league, then the WCHA must think outside the box.

"It's tough going back to the well from them all the time to take care the realities of the geography of the league," McLeod said.

"You don't want to bankrupt the association either."

McLeod said in the WCHA, there has been little concern about flying teams to and from Anchorage during the postseason because of the revenue produced by the WCHA's FInal Five tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Starting in 2013-14, though, Minnesota and Wisconsin are heading to the Big Ten while Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, St. Cloud State and Minnesota-Duluth join the CCHA's Western Michigan and Miami in the NCHC.

Come 2013-14, the WCHA will have eight NCAA Division II members in UAA, UAF, NMU, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bemidji State and Minnesota State Mankato. Bowling Green State will be the lone NCAA Division I school in the league, but coming from the MAC, the Falcons aren't the draw that say Michigan or Michigan State are in the CCHA.

"When the WCHA had Alaska (Anchorage), there was no worrying about these things," McLeod said. "We had big bills there too, but we were making a lot of money to pay those things. In this circumstance, that kind of pot is certainly is not going to be as big as it has been in the past. That changes the equation a lot. Anything has to be sold to the presidents that way."

And everyone from the presidents to the athletic directors to the coaches are open to alternate scenarios involving how to handle playing a postseason tournament with two Alaska schools.

McLeod said league's athletic directors will be holding a conference next week and the postseason format will once again be discussed.

"It's not set in stone," McLeod said. "Although it was voted upon and passed, there were a couple other scenarios that were definitely talked about.

"Just having conversations with the group about what may be plan B or plan C, just tells you how concerned everybody is about it. Maybe somebody will come up with something out of the blue. I don't really know."



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