Breaking the CHA-in

By Elliot Olshansky - February 22, 2007

My weekly column is up, as I return to the issue of the future of College Hockey America. I've been following the conference's struggle for survival all along since Air Force announced its intention to join Atlantic Hockey, and at this point, I am of the opinion that the league just isn't going to make it.

Here's the thing: one way or another, the CHA is dead. I've followed the proposal to save the conference's autobid through the entire NCAA legislative process, but the bottom line is that the autobid is far from the only issue.

If you think that Wayne State is going to last as a program drawing 500 fans a game at home and taking road trips to Bemidji and Huntsville every year, you may have been sitting a bit too close to the glass last time you went to the rink. Eventually, if nothing changes, Wayne State will fold. From there, the other four teams will have no autobid to play for, which will eventually cause those programs to either fold or go into other conferences.

The question, of course, is whether those conferences will be willing. From my own conversations with Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DiGregorio, I have little difficulty believing that Niagara and Robert Morris would be welcomed with open arms. That leaves the CCHA and the WCHA, to which Wayne State and Bemidji State have applied.

What surprises me is the number of CCHA and WCHA fans whose opinions I've read who are against the conferences taking these schools in. The most frequent arguments against accepting the teams involve scheduling difficulties and the competitive qualities of the two schools. Sorry, not buying it.

Given that the CHA is on its last legs, the burden lies on the other conferences to decide whether these programs will live or die. Those are five programs right there who represent more than 100 student-athletes. Taking into account the small, closely-knit community that college hockey is, I find it very hard to believe that no measures will be taken to protect those programs and those student-athletes, and I don't see how college hockey fans could support their conferences of choice turning a blind eye, given what that would mean.

I'm not entirely sure how to do it, although one of the proposed scenarios seems very attractive to me: Nebraska-Omaha joins the WCHA along with Bemidji State. Wayne State takes Nebraska-Omaha's spot in the CCHA, and Robert Morris and Niagara join Atlantic Hockey. That, of course, leaves Alabama-Huntsville, and that is a tricky one, since the Chargers don't really fit into anyone's geographic profile. However, I will say that if Atlantic Hockey is prepared to expand into Colorado, and the CCHA and WCHA are willing to go to Alaska, then someone ought to be willing to go to Alabama.

The bottom line, though, is that the futures of five programs are up in the air, and if you don't want your conference of choice to help, then you either don't fully understand the situation or you don't care, and one of the things that I love about college hockey is how much people seem to care about the sport as a whole in addition to their own favorite teams. It is my hope that my feelings about that will be validated in the near future.

Posted by Elliot Olshansky at 11:44 PM on February 22, 2007

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