Thursday, July 07, 2011

Thursday Night Beer: UNO Changing Conferences Again... and More on MooTV

By all accounts, a new hockey conference will be announced next Wednesday, combining the best non-Big Ten hockey programs from the WCHA and CCHA into what's being called the "super conference".  From the WCHA, it'll be North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, and UNO joining CCHA power Miami (Ohio). Notre Dame and Western Michigan from the CCHA are still considering joining the mix as well. How strong will this conference be?

All eight teams were in the NCAA tournament last season.  For a football comparison, think about what would happen if Florida, LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska were to join up to form a new conference. Imagine the interest from television networks to carry these games!  But that's the problem here; college hockey isn't going to be able to generate much interest from television networks. Frankly, I'm not sure what the reason here is, other than to be able to tell potential recruits that you are playing in the toughest college hockey league in the country, and that NHL teams will see the value in letting their draft picks develop in that environment for free. But that's going to be of small solace to fans of teams who struggle to top the .500 mark and be in contention for an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament thanks to a brutal schedule.

And I agree with those who say that this is bad for college hockey, especially the smaller schools. Jon Brooks of MavPuck calls them the "Island of Misfit Schools": schools that are left behind without the "names".  Schools like Northern Michigan and St. Cloud State, for example. They'll probably come together and scrape together a mid-major conference of the leftovers, and compete for a single automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Some could simply fold, without the revenue and prestige that playing schools like Michigan and Wisconsin bring to their athletic departments.

That being said, in this environment, you are better off being included in this mix than being on the outside... and for that, UNO fans should be absolutely ecstatic that Trev Alberts is the athletic director. Without Alberts, UNO hockey was likely on the outside of this discussion. Football and wrestling boosters might think their programs would still exist if Alberts hadn't come to Omaha, but that's a questionable argument at best when you look at the numbers.

It's easy to chuckle (ok, admit it, it's downright hilarious) at how the lovey-dovey relationship between the remaining Big XII schools couldn't last even one week thanks to ESPN siphoning a Big XII conference football game from ABC to the Longhorn Network (or MooTV, as I prefer to call it). From ESPN's perspective, it's an easy call. ESPN and ABC are committed to paying for carrying these games, and putting a second game on MooTV puts additional pressure on every cable operator in and around Texas to pony up the 40 cents a month per subscriber. That's more than ABC will make selling ads on a Big XII game, especially considering that ABC can still schedule a B1G game (wouldn't that be funny if Big XII country got a Nebraska game instead!) or Pac-12 game in that timeslot.

But that means one less game with visibility nationally for the Big XII. Remember last year when Utah and TCU faced off on CBS Sports Channel, and most of the country couldn't watch the game? Same thing here, especially if MooTV selects Oklahoma State at Texas. Heck, right now, even the folks in Texas might have some difficulty watching the game.  BurntOrangeNation provides the complete list of providers who have agreed to carry MooTV.  (I'll summarize it here:  )  Oh sure, DirecTV will probably sign up, and a few cable companies will give in.  But let's not forget how long it took BTN and the NFL Network just to get to around 50% of the nation.

That's one of the reasons why I wasn't excited by the idea that Nebraska could start their own network. Sure, Nebraska might have some success selling their rights to a single game to a Versus, for example. But finding enough cable outlets who would sacrifice the bandwidth for a 24 hour Nebraska network?  Good luck with that. I'm just pleased that my cable provider has signed on with BTN, and hasn't raised my rates accordingly.

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