Back when Penn State helped launch Barry Alvarez’s dream of a Big Ten hockey conference, Bowling Green was left on the outside looking in. In the final year of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association the Falcons achieved a mark of 15-21-5 and 10-15-3 in conference play. It was certainly a fine finish for a program that was on their deathbed just three years earlier.
But, the Falcons’ decade-plus fall from grace meant they weren’t exactly in a great position to negotiate their new conference home. While fellow Mid American Conference brethren Western Michigan and Miami moved to the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference, Bowling Green was left with the option to either join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with the rest of their CCHA remnants or try playing independent (nearly an impossible feat in the modern era of college hockey).
Since that time, Bowling Green has shown steady improvement, raising their profile in college hockey to a respectable level winning 20+ games the past two seasons. The Falcons seemingly have a bit more bargaining power, as the realignment carousel is primed to start back up. While the NCHC announced they weren’t expanding at this time, any news from Alaska (which could come as early as November) will certainly cause some shifting.
A worst-case scenario, if the NCHC opens up expansion, would see Minnesota State joining the NCHC. With the possibility that division one collegiate hockey could be eliminated Alaska, that means the WCHA would be down to just seven programs. Of those seven programs, only three have competed in the WCHA for longer than three seasons (Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, and Northern Michigan). Tax documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service by the WCHA (which is a 501(c)(3) association) showed the conference lost $400,000 for the 2014 fiscal year (7/1/14 to 6/30/15). If the conference fails to quell that monetary bleed then they’d be asset-less in around five years. The league will file for the 2015 fiscal year in early 2017.
It might be time for Bowling Green to unlock their archives and kick the tires on a CCHA re-launch for their own and other member’s long-term health as a program. A more clustered league with former CCHA members and some Atlantic Hockey Conference programs could be a strong conference that limits expenses all-around. I won’t be getting into any specific realignment possibilities since there’s going to be plenty of time to play that game again. But, with Bowling Green holding the rights to the CCHA name and all the assets to come with it there’d be minimal upstart charges (plus I hear office space is pretty affordable in Toledo).
It’s certainly possible for the WCHA to start turning the corner financially. A shift from a central-site conference tournament to campus sites should be less of a monetary hit to the conference. But, with no television deal outside of their streaming offering the WCHA is still a long ways from becoming profitable. The conference could raise its membership dues but for some programs that new rate might be too high.
A strong, financially successful WCHA has been a lynchpin of college hockey for over five decades. But, the days of doing things for the good of the game have fallen by the wayside in the name of the almighty dollar. Unless the WCHA can find ways to become more profitable and thus more solvent, Bowling Green might have to put the wheels in motion to not only protect itself, but other teams in the central area of college hockey.