So I was hanging out on Twitter a couple weeks ago and asked followers to hit me up with any questions they might have. This was one of them:
@INCH true or false….CCHA in some form will return in the next 5 years?
— Darin Pritchett (@IrishHockeyTalk) February 13, 2015
It’s a legitimate question, one that couldn’t be adequately answered in 140 characters. I may not do much better using 20 times the characters here, but it’s worth a shot.
Even though we went through an entire round of realignment two years ago, programs that made a flip have a better idea how the current situation works for them. And I believe that, yes, the CCHA will come back in some form. It’s not that anyone is truly unhappy where they are right now.* But there’s going to a team or teams who think they can improve their situations by breaking away or, in the case of the CCHA, re-starting a league.
* Look, I’ve heard the rumblings about Notre Dame not being keen on Hockey East for a variety of reasons, but they’re a better institutional fit in Hockey East—that’s a big deal at Notre Dame—and they’ll draw better crowds against HEA foes than they would against opponents from, say, the NCHC.
If that happened, wouldn’t it make sense for nearby Ferris State to come on board? And might Atlantic Hockey members Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and/or Robert Morris be open to flipping to a new-look CCHA, lured by the opportunity to offer 18 scholarships as opposed to the 14-scholarship limit imposed by their current league?Bowling Green owns the rights to the CCHA—at least that’s my understanding, and I don’t really know what that entails. That said, is it far-fetched to think Bowling Green, which according to this CBSSports.com story from last November has an athletic department deficit of $11.4 million, wouldn’t explore rejuvenating the CCHA as a way to cut costs? Do you think Western Michigan, which the same article says has a $21.3 million athletic department shortfall, could be convinced to join based on finances?
That’s seven programs right there, enough for this imaginary league to get its playoff champion an automatic NCAA tournament bid. Getting to eight is easy, either by courting Lake Superior State or Miami.
Ah, the RedHawks, the wild card in this scenario. They’re one of the top dozen hockey programs in the country; getting them to commit a new CCHA would be a coup. Would Miami, owners of a $19.7 million athletic department deficit according to CBSSports.com, join fellow MAC members Bowling Green and Western Michigan in a new league? Or do the RedHawks think leaving the powerful NCHC would be a disservice to the hockey program? For that matter, does Western Michigan feel the same way about a move out of Natty Ice?
Arizona State joins the college hockey mix in a couple of years. Where will the Sun Devils land and, if they end up in the NCHC, does it open the door for, say, Minnesota State as that league’s tenth member? Now that the Big Ten has added Johns Hopkins as an affiliate member for men’s lacrosse, maybe that cracks the door for that league to go outside of its boundaries in search of more teams.
This is all just speculation, but the hunch here is conference realignment in the next couple years is more than just possibility, but a probability.