(Editor’s note: the previous version of this article suggested teams playing four cross-division games. The article has been corrected to show the originally intended four series of games)
We’ve been wrapped up with the 2015-2016 season for a few weeks now. We’ve crowned a new national champion (congrats to the North Dakota Fighting Hawks), the rumor mill has started up with a new Division I program possibly arriving soon north of the border, and Arizona State should be announcing their new conference home any day now.
There are some more pressing matters in the present though. For all the wonderful aspects of the WCHA, it’s fundamentally broken. It’s a conference that’s lost in a re-shuffled era of college hockey, and is struggling to remain relevant against the NCHC and Hockey East’s of our world.
As the man well known for coming up for solutions despite no one asking for my help, I’ve put together this proposal for Commissioner Bill Robertson to read at his earliest convenience. It’s a simple plan with just three parts for a stronger conference. But, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll be looking at issues from a BG point of view…you know…because I live here.
Let me just state this now: I don’t think bringing back the CCHA is a good idea. One of the great things about the CCHA was the mix of large and small schools which you just won’t have anymore in a “new” CCHA. Not to mention that many seem to have this illusion that Miami and Western Michigan are miserable in the NCHC and are looking for the first train out of town. Thanks to USA Today’s reporting and Hustle Belt’s compiling we have some insight on the finances of the athletic department finances in the MAC. Miami and Western Michigan saw profit’s of over $300,000 and $400,000 respectively. In other words: financially they’re not really hurting. And if you’re the RedHawks or Broncos? You get North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Minnesota-Duluth in your barn every year? Yes please.
So, without further adieu here’s my three-part plan to Make the WCHA Great Again.©
Create a better environment for offensive skill: The WCHA is boring hockey to watch most nights. If a less skilled team gets an early lead? You’re going to watch about 45-50 minutes of clutch-and-grab, obstruction-filled hockey. In some ways you can’t fault the league for trying to artificially create parity. But there’s some really good offensive skill in the conference that are overshadowed by other teams in the NCHC which plays a style more like the NHL. There’s supposed to be an NCAA push for increased scoring and attention to interference and obstruction. Apparently that carrier pigeon got lost on it’s way to Edina, Minn.
Conference expansion/division creation: There are teams such as Niagara, Mercyhurst, and Robert Morris that have expressed a desire in the past to join a conference that allows the full NCAA-allowed 18 scholarships. Atlantic Hockey teams are only permitted to offer 14 scholarships (RIT offers no scholarships as they’re division three in all other sports). So let’s send some invites to some Atlantic Hockey programs to go full scholarships. With 12 teams you could split the conference into two divisions for scheduling reasons. Let’s take a look at how that new conference would look:
|Lake Superior||Bowling Green|
|Michigan Tech||Ferris State|
|Northern Michigan||Robert Morris|
Under this arrangement you’d play each team in your division four times (two games at each rink). You’d also play four crossover series (eight games) with teams from the other division. That means you’d only have to travel to your crossover opponent’s rink every three years. The opponents and location would rotate each season (the Alaska schools would still play each other four times every season for their Governor’s Cup series).
Teams would have 10-12 spots for out-of-conference games with the Alaska exemption. Travel would still be a little rough, but manageable: the longest bus ride in the Western division would be Bemidji/Minnesota State going to Lake Superior at 11 hours. In the Central division the trip from Huntsville to Ferris State or Mercyhurst (Erie, PA) would be around 12 hours.
Move the Final Five to Smaller Venues: The XCel Energy Center is an absolutely gorgeous building and players love playing in an NHL rink. It’s also about three times too big for the WCHA Final Five. The WCHA should look for smaller venues in the 6,000-8,000 range to host their showcase event. You’re only going to sell around 6,000 tickets so you should pay the lower rent and have the event look better for television. Plus, having 12 teams opens up the opportunity to go back to the original WCHA Final Five format.
The event also needs to continue to alternate between Minnesota and Ohio/Michigan area. Some claim that it won’t help the event grow a following. If the conference played the Final Five in Grand Rapids for the next 10 years you wouldn’t see an attendance bump. Fans of the team and only fans of the teams are your ticket buyers. If you absolutely must have the event played at the same site every season then it needs to be centrally located (such as Chicago).
There’s my three-part plan to fix the WCHA. Feel free to comment below if there’s anything you agree or disagree with.