The opinions expressed herein are solely those of Drew Evans of BGSUHockey.com and not necessarily the opinions of other BGSUHockey.com staff members. BGSUHockey.com is an independent media entity which is not affiliated with BGSU in any way whatsoever.
“Let’s Play Hockey” reported last week that a contingent of WCHA officials (including BGSU’s president Mary Ellen Mazey) traveled to Tempe, AZ to try and sell the WCHA to the Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU is presently playing their first season as an official NCAA member. They will play a “hybrid” schedule, which is a mixture of NCAA and ACHA (club) contests. Next season they will play a full NCAA schedule as an independent team before joining a conference for the 2017-2018 season.
The WCHA isn’t the only conference vying for the Sun Devils. The NCHC and Big Ten are also said to be courting ASU. Arizona State would bring a glut of positives to whatever conference they would join, but will also bring in some pains as well.
The biggest positive would be teams ability to appear on the Pac-12 Network when playing ASU. This could potentially result in additional revenue and will absolutely result in more exposure for the teams featured. Also, the increased exposure should help teams to recruit to the southern-California area, which is considered one of the fastest growing markets of hockey in the nation thanks to the success of the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL. BGSU’s own Tomas Sholl comes from this region.
However, one must discuss the negatives as well.
Arizona State will be a plane trip for every single team in the NCAA. The shortest bus trip would be 12 hours for some of the Colorado schools. For Bowling Green this would amount to an airfare cost alone of around $12,500. After meals, ground transportation, and rooming costs the trip easily would rise over $15,000.
The Falcons only other regular plane rides are to Alaska where they receive a subsidy that’s believed to be around $10,000. As well the NCAA allows for schools that make Alaska trips to schedule additional games to help minimize the financial impact of the travel costs. No such “Alaska Exemption” exists for Arizona State nor will one be passed as the state is within the continental United States.
It’s also believed that with the clout of bringing the Pac-12 Network that Arizona State will not be offering travel subsidies to whatever conference they end up joining. The WCHA almost certainly asked for a subsidy in their pitch to minimize budget impacts. With three conferences vying for the Sun Devils’ services ASU can afford to demand a high asking price.
Travel budget and cost control continues to be an issue in the “new” WCHA. Schools like Lake Superior and both Alaska programs are facing financial shortfalls from their state governments. Even Bowling Green, which is the only football bowl subdivision (FBS) member of the WCHA, has wrestled with working with a large new travel budget after playing in the travel-friendly CCHA for decades.
Despite Bowling Green’s large size compared to the rest of the WCHA it has it’s own considerations in regards to a possible addition of Arizona State. With the introduction of the cost of attendance (COA) subsidies, a push for full funding of all scholarships in all sports, and an urgent need for a new $60-80 million football stadium it’s not hard to see the issues that would arise from an additional $15,000-$20,000 road trip every season for the hockey Falcons.
Adding Arizona State would almost certainly cause the shoe to drop on re-alignment as well. Conferences typically frown on odd-number teams and adding Arizona State would facilitate the need to then add a 12th member. Re-alignment is exhausting, and I won’t cover it here, but there are always dates without dance partners when realignment finally settles.
Without a subsidy from Tempe it just doesn’t make financial sense for the WCHA to take on Arizona State. The schools are not “like minded” nor are they similar in philosophy or size to any school in the conference. It would take an already sprawling geographical footprint and further spread resources even thinner. While it is certainly an intriguing option to bring on a school with it’s own regional sports network and name recognition to the league, this just isn’t the right fit for a conference that borderlines on cost control at times.
The conference should instead focus on building up the programs it has now, securing a true national TV deal, and continuing to grow exposure of the conference to the hockey community.