Saturday, July 02, 2011

Big Ten Hockey May Force Another Conference Realignment for UNO Hockey

The Grand Forks Herald reported today that North Dakota is thinking about withdrawing from the WCHA and creating a new "power conference", which would pick and choose the best teams remaining in the WCHA and the CCHA. (H/T:  NDGoon) After the Big Ten announced that hockey would become a Big Ten sponsored sport, the WCHA lost Minnesota and Wisconsin while the CCHA lost Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State.

The WCHA should still be viable with the ten remaining members, but the CCHA is likely on life support. That may be driving this latest realignment, as Notre Dame and Miami likely are looking for a more solid conference for hockey. But frankly, I have to wonder what will happen to the teams left behind by this second round of realignment.

That doesn't appear to be the concern for Nebraska-Omaha.  UNO was the first team that the Herald reported would be involved in this new conference. Others likely would be Colorado College and possibly Western Michigan.  (UNO athletic director Trev Alberts did not respond to a request for comment by the Grand Forks Herald.)

I'm still trying to understand the point of creating a new power conference outside of the WCHA. Frankly, it would seem to have all of the negatives that I thought a Big Ten hockey conference would have with few, if none of the benefits. Lump together all of the best hockey programs in the midwest and west, and have them beat each other up. A team that would otherwise be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament might instead find themselves on the outside thanks to a killer schedule. The driving force for B1G hockey is for programming on the Big Ten Network, as conference games will be pushed into January and will be played on weeknights.  (At least, I assume they'll be played in the evenings and not in the afternoons...)

That works for the Big Ten...but I don't see where schools like North Dakota and Miami can find a television platform like BTN.  Even Notre Dame probably doesn't have the pull to make it happen. Heck, most of these schools have local television arrangements, but I don't think there's any way this conference pulls a media deal. So I'm left to wonder why this conference would be created.

But maybe I'm asking the wrong question. Like when Nebraska was considering the realignment question last spring, it's not a question whether UNO belongs in the WCHA today, but rather UNO wants to be part of what the WCHA would be in a few years after North Dakota and other name schools have left. And in that situation, it's almost a no-brainer to suggest following North Dakota if they choose to bolt.

An interesting idea that's been put forth is that the new conference will focus on division 1 schools where hockey is the flagship sport.  (Well, that's not Notre Dame, but let's set that aside for a moment.) Six months ago, that would be a huge issue for UNO, though now that UNO has jumped to division 1 and the Summit League, that shouldn't matter. But that raises an interesting aspect if you look back to UNO's decision to go division 1 and drop football and wrestling: did UNO need to get the entire athletic department into division 1 as soon as possible?

A conspiracy theory, perhaps? Could be, though it's certainly much more viable than the whole "Tom Osborne felt threatened by UNO football (and their 1500 fans at most games)" theory that some people still hold onto.

1 comment:

gsmith601 said...

Good post. I hope UNO and North Dakota stay with the WCHA. The new conference seems like it would be pretty spread out plus the damage over all to college hockey.