Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Does the WCHA Now Secretly Covet UNO?

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association's decision to explore expansion is creating a rippling effect in college hockey. The primary benefactor appears to be Bemidji State in Minnesota. The Beavers are currently play in the CHA, which will probably become extinct once the NCAA strips the CHA of it's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. That leaves Bemidji and Alabama-Huntsville lost, and without a home.

So Bemidji makes a good fit for the WCHA, but that leaves the WCHA with an odd number of teams, which makes scheduling a royal pain. The WCHA ideally wants 12 teams. Alabama-Huntsville is simply too far from the rest of the WCHA teams, so that's not a great option.

So ten years after calling things off with UNO, suddenly the WCHA seems to have interest in Maverick Hockey. In fact, the WCHA seems to have their eyes on not only UNO but also Northern Michigan as well, which makes for an interesting set of options for the WCHA. If they can convince either UNO or Northern to jump, they've got someone to match up with Bemidji. If they could convince both to jump, the WCHA could play hard-to-get once again, feeling that the left-out team could find a home in the CCHA, perhaps paired up with Alabama-Huntsville.

But here's the catch. Why would UNO be interested in the WCHA ten years after being dumped unceremoneously on the way to the altar. When UNO started their hockey program in the mid 1990's, the plan was always to play in the WCHA. After UNO's first season, the WCHA got cold feet, and UNO found themselves being pushed towards what would eventually be CHA. UNO wanted no part of that, and instead found a great home with the CCHA.

To be sure, the WCHA is a better fit regionally for UNO. Colorado College and Denver to the west. North Dakota and Minnesota to the north. All are not only reasonable drives for UNO fans, but also for fans of visiting teams to drive I-80, I-29, or I-35/80 to Omaha for a weekend. It might also convince FSN to carry their college hockey broadcasts in the Nebraska area. (That's something I simply don't understand. FSN thinks that reruns of poker, sports bloopers, and the Best Sports Show are more interesting than live sporting events for some unknown reason.)

But while WCHA teams may have an edge on the CCHA in terms of college hockey tradition, the CCHA brings marquee names to Omaha that resonate with collegiate sports fans: Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State. For a program trying to grow it's market into the general sports audience who thinks football first, the CCHA names simply have better name recognition over the WCHA.

Frankly, I don't see UNO being interested in the WCHA at this time except on one condition, and that's for the greater good of college hockey in general. Especially after having been burned by the WCHA once before. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.


Anonymous said...

As a Mav season ticket holder, I can see no benefit to moving to the WCHA. While the WCHA may be a hot conference, there are teams in the CCHA that are nationally recognized. I would rather go for this than for regional games.

Frankly, I would rather watch our guys go up against Notre Dame than North Dakota.

Anonymous said...

As a fan of the WCHA and graduate of the University of North Dakota and now a resident of the Omaha metro, I personally think that the WCHA would be a great fit for UNO. First, I will agree with the first Anonymous in that Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Ohio State does give that name recognition that a program loves to have to get butts in the seats. But UNO now has a strong base of fans that gives them one of the top attendance figures in the nation and I think the WCHA would give UNO many new hockey fans.

First, the WCHA is a powerful conference, with Minnesota, Wisconsin, Denver, and North Dakota and I would argue that the middle to bottom of the pack is much better than the middle to bottom of the pack in the CCHA, meaning better hockey all around. (personal opinion of course)

Second, the WCHA would help UNO make and save money. It would help them make money because WCHA fans travel very well and Omaha offers much for the WCHA fan looking for a weekend getaway (casinos, zoo, shopping). The WCHA would save UNO money because they would now be able to bus to many out of town games.

Third, It would be good for the fans. UNO fans would now be able to follow their team easily on the road to MN, ND, CO, WI. It would also probably add fans to the games with the lesser known teams because UNO is not that far removed from the old NCC which makes up a good portion of the WCHA.

There are pros and cons to both the WCHA and the CCHA, but overall, if the WCHA comes calling, it might be good to listen.