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NMU standing firm on fair future scheduling agreements with likes of Notre Dame, Michigan

NCAA hockey conference realignment create new challenges creating a nonconference schedule

November 1, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - With every big name opponent that enters the Berry Events Center - last week it was Notre Dame, and this week it is Michigan - Northern Michigan University head coach Walt Kyle and his CCHA colleagues field the same questions from supporters of Wildcat hockey.

Will Marquette see the likes of the Fighting Irish or Wolverines ever again in the Upper Peninsula after this season?

According to Kyle, only if those teams are willing to abide by his terms - fair terms.

Article Photos

Notre Dame forward Jeff Costello circles back toward the puck on Saturday against Northern Michigan University at the Berry Events Center. (Journal file photo)

"I'm not going to get into scheduling with a team that wants to schedule us twice in their building and once in our building," Kyle said.

"I'm not going to put ourselves in a position where we are chasing a rabbit two out of every three years. I'll do 50-50. I'll do it in a fair world, but I'm not going to put us in those positions."

Despite the risk of losing an occasional television appearance and weekend boost in ticket sales that often comes from a Michigan or Michigan State in Marquette, Kyle and the 'Cats are holding strong when it comes their stance on scheduling future nonconference games.

Kyle is happy to host the Wolverines in Marquette beyond this weekend's 7:35 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday at the Berry Events Center, but only if it involves a single return trip to Ann Arbor. He won't make two trips to Yost Ice Arena in return for only one by Michigan to the Berry Events Center.

He won't take any payouts again either, like the program is doing next season when it travels to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks - something that was set in motion prior to conference realignment.

"There are a number of schools that have offered us two-for-ones, and I've refused every one of them," Kyle said. "And a couple of those schools have come back afterward and said, 'OK, one-for-one.'"

And what about the schools that refuse to come around and accept Kyle's terms?

"I wouldn't play them. I'd play somebody else," he said.

Kyle has two reasons for holding a strong line - which he expects others to stick to as well.

The obvious answer for playing at home as opposed to the road is competitive advantage.

The second reason is financial stability, which is the driving force behind everyone's decision making process in scheduling future nonconference opponents.

Kyle said Northern would like to average 18 home games per season - the coach said he can manage 16 home games one year as long as he has 20 the following year.

Northern's new league next year, the WCHA, will feature a 28-game league schedule, meaning NMU will get 14 home games automatically. That leaves eight nonconference games in years when NMU makes one trip to the state of Alaska, or 10 nonconference games when the Wildcats must play in both Anchorage and Fairbanks because of not one, but two exemptions beyond the NCAA's 34-game limit for playing in the 49th state.

Teams outside the new WCHA have a much larger hole to fill, and according to Kyle it's swung supply and demand in his program's favor, hence the reversal by some teams away from two-for-one deals.

Instead, some schools are trying to side-step the one-for-one deals by offering the guaranteed payouts, like what North Dakota offered NMU two years ago before Penn State announced it would start an NCAA Division I hockey program.

"It will be increasingly difficult for member schools to pass up the guaranteed money that will be offered to play on the road," NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said. "We could help prevent any potential imbalance by voting to require that members play a certain percentage of nonconference games at home. At this point though, we (the new group of WCHA schools) have decided that it's unnecessary to define minimum nonconference home game requirements."

The payouts and two-for-one requests come because of increased pressure to schedule as many nonconference home dates as possible due to less conference games being played.

Hockey East, Notre Dame's future home and the alma mater of Karr, will play a 20-game league schedule next season and a 22-game slate in 2014-15 when UConn joins the league, leaving teams like the Irish with 14 nonconference dates to fill next season and 12 the following year.

The Big Ten will play a 20-game schedule and the NCHC will go with 24 league games.

That means NCHC teams like Western will have 10 dates to fill, while the Wolverines have 14.

Irish head coach Jeff Jackson said Saturday in Marquette his athletic director wants to see 20 contests a season at the program's new Compton Ice Arena, which could include an exhibition.

With only 10 automatic home games next year and 11 the following year in Hockey East, Jackson admits it will be tough in the new landscape for the Irish to get two thirds of their nonconference games in South Bend each season.

"It's going to be challenging every year to get that many games," Jackson said.

"We want teams that are willing to come down to our place, but we're not going to play it like some teams. We're going to travel. You have to play on the road to become a better team. These games here toughen you up."

Jackson wouldn't specify whether Northern Michigan and Marquette was the right situation or team to schedule a one-and-one with, though the former Lake Superior State head coach said he would like to see NMU play in Notre Dame's future Thanksgiving weekend tournament.

Michigan coach Red Berenson was even more vague about the Wolverines' future against the Wildcats when asked by ESPN 970 AM's Casey Ford what the chances are of Michigan scheduling NMU in the future under Kyle's terms.

"I can't answer your question," Berenson said on ESPN 970 AM. "I hope we get to play all these teams we currently play."

Northern's first season in the new-look WCHA next year will include nonconference matchups with the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux and Wisconsin on the road, and Nebraska-Omaha at home.

Kyle said the program is also in talks with extending its deal with St. Cloud State, plus adding Western Michigan, Alabama-Huntsville and Michigan State to its nonconference schedule. The Great Lakes Invitational, hosted by Michigan Tech at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, is also on the table.

"We want to provide our fans with the best schedule we can provide," Kyle said. "We want as many times as we can to get schools that the fans want to see. We'll do our best to fill the building and be competitive."

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



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