Sunday, July 10, 2011

UNO Hockey Conference Change Confirmed... But Why?

On Saturday, the athletic directors of UNO, North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami, Denver, and Colorado College issued a brief statement that confirmed that those schools are forming a new conference in 2013-14. To a large extent, I'm still not sure exactly why a new conference is necessary, as at first glance, it would appear that simply inviting Miami and Notre Dame to join the WCHA would provide much of the benefits of this new conference and at less cost.

Or so it would seem to this blogger, who freely admits that, after UNO's one season in the WCHA, he doesn't have enough history or perspective to judge the WCHA. That's where Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald comes in to provide some clarity.

The biggest reason is television, and it's a reason I've previously dismissed. But Schlossman has learned that there is interest from Versus, the cable network that currently carries the NHL on weeknights and is being merged with NBC Sports.  My expectation is that the interest from Versus is based on Notre Dame being a member, thanks to NBC's long standing relationship with Notre Dame for football.  If an arrangement with Versus is possible, it's a huge gain for the schools in this "super conference" as Versus is available in 76 million homes nationwide.  (For comparison, the NFL Network is in 57 million homes and last year, the Big Ten Network was in only 45 million homes.)

The other issues appear to be secondary in nature, though it appears that there is a core disagreement between schools like North Dakota that want hockey to be bigger and bigger and other schools (St. Cloud State, perhaps?) that think it's as big as it gets.  With the exit of Minnesota and Wisconsin, the voting blocks on conference issues have tilted towards the smaller schools, and that's led these other schools to consider breaking away. There's also a serious lack of confidence in WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod from many of these schools.  (I get the impression that McLeod and Dan Beebe probably find a lot of things in common here...)

We still don't have all the answers yet; those won't come until the formal announcement on Wednesday. But I do think that with schools like North Dakota, Denver, and Miami on board (and Notre Dame lurking nearby), it's better to be on the inside of that group than outside. And for that, you have to thank Trev Alberts, who made UNO hockey nationally relevant with his move to hire Dean Blais two years ago.

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