A Place for Everyone: Realignment of Division One Men’s College Hockey

(Photo Credit-College Hockey Inc.)

From the time a child starts playing hockey travel has been a big part of their lives. Weekend tournaments that are hours drive away as littles and then making the decision to move away from home to play junior hockey at young ages, many often before they can drive. This is just the beginning of the traveling that comes with being a college player. Countless players that we have interviewed speak of experiencing the game for the first time through a friend or family connection. From there they look to play at the next elvel, and for many, the pinnacle of their career is playing Division One College Hockey.

Division One Men’s College Hockey is a sport with a long history that includes the rise and fall of many programs, many due to the financial cost of competing at the top level of the sport relative to the revenue some are able to raise. Travel is a big part of that cost equation. Now people are going to argue that traveling is not a big enough expense to break the camels back. However, when the costs of the program range from 500,000 to three million dollars a year. Smaller schools bus a lot of the time to save money, while other schools fly more than bus. Our goal of this proposal is to further discussions on how can we make this setup fairer to the programs with smaller budgets, and provide a chance for further expansion in this game we all want to be bigger than it is.

I am suggesting taking all 61 programs and putting everyone in conferences in closer geographical range where possible. Where that does not work, we group programs based on institutional profile. Given the uncertain future of Alaska Anchorage Hockey, we will list them as an independent for this discussion, as their supporters to save it have a plan to compete as independents.

We will also list Alaska Fairbanks as an independent given the dearth of programs in the pacific northwest and ones that can afford to make repeated trips to Alaska. We hope that one of these conferences can work a scheduling agreement with the two Alaska schools in order to provide surety to them for some games each year. Both programs have a hard road ahead, but if the game we love keeps growing, it should get a little easier as more schools near them would help this problem of travel costs be ameliorated.

The other thing to consider is that the Big Ten is the only conference that is not a single sport conference. We will not be realigning them. I know this will be a disappointment for a select group of some North Dakota or Minnesota fans, but it is very difficult to make changes to multi-sport conference and because their is a long term potential for full member Big Ten schools to add men’s ice hockey as a sport. The old WCHA is not coming back in any of these proposals.

First, let’s focus on the NCHC.

NCHC

North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota Duluth, St Cloud State, Minnesota State, Colorado College, Arizona State, Omaha, and Air Force

This is a conference full of teams that have a lot of history and rivalries, and some like Arizona State that are getting new facilities. The only really long tip would be down to Arizona State. Putting these teams together brings together some old rivalries with the ability to create new ones, while keeping some old ones. In addition, for a conference that wants to truly be “national” in its reach, adding Arizona State and Air Force, gives them this ability to expand their footprint, and lets all of the Colorado schools play all of their rivalry games within the conference. For anyone who says Air Force is not a like minded institution in terms of putting the best possible hockey team on the ice, or one capable of competing with anyone, we would point you to their numerous near trips to the Frozen Four over the past decade with players overlooked by many other teams. In addition, any conference that has a service academy in it, especially ones with multiple alums playing professional hockey while serving, gets a built in pitch to bring in more players from all around the country.

Also, the Mavericks have shown their worth in the WCHA for years, and have a devoted fanbase that makes up their supporter group, and another program in Minnesota. Mankato has a wonderful building, fans, school, and so much more that make them a worthy candidate to join the NCHC.

In addition, Arizona State is working to get a new arena built by December of 2022. Given their current arena situation, we understand the reticence of the conference to admit them to this point. By the start of the 23-24 campaign, hopefully, the arena issue is no longer an excuse. Prior to a potential future Pac-12 Hockey Conference forming, this arrangement allows for a select few Pac-12 Schools that may want to field a team to have a few close partners to do so with.

Atlantic Hockey

Army, Canisius college, Niagara University, Rochester Institute of Technology, Union, Bentley, American Intentional College, Robert Morris University, Long Island University, University of Alabama-Huntsville, Holy Cross, Mercyhurst

With this set up you can create travel partners and do home and homes with the 6 schools closest to you. Yes, this will create an unbalanced schedule, which is to be expected within a 12 school conference.

We are proposing having six teams play each other in four games per year, home-and-home at each institution based on geography. That equates to a built in 20 games per year for each school. In addition, there would be enough crossover play in the conference that would get each school to 26-28 games, leaving 8-10 non conference games available to be scheduled .

Alabama Huntsville being in this conference would dramatically expand its reach down to the southeast, and show that this conference supports the game and wants an institution with a big capacity to make the conference more competitive, instantly. Also, with Alabama Huntsville’s potential work to get marquee games at Bridgestone Arena, after securing a new conference home, who among this proud conference would not want to take the tournament down south every few years? The impact of having that tournament in Nashville, and marketing right to sell it out would be exponentially great for this conference.

In addition, Union’s proposed upgrades to the Achilles Center, where their home rink is, will take time, and having a national champion in your conference adds more to the long term legacy right away for the Atlantic Hockey Association. The split, unbalanced schedule would allow institutions to also not need to schedule flights to Air Force, and keep missed class time for longer trips down, while maintaining the option for weeknight games were appropriate to maximize the utility of each road trip.

ECAC

Sacred Heart, RPI, Yale, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, Brown, Harvard, Clarkson, Princeton, St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Cornell

We switched Sacred Heart with Union College for this simple reason. The Pioneers are getting a 60 million dollar arena built on their Fairfield Campus set to open pending final approvals as early as 2022. Sacred Heart meets the other institutions in terms of profile and a group working together to make hockey a part of the student-athlete experience.

Hockey East

Boston College, Boston University, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Merrimack College, University of New Hampshire, Northeastern University, Providence College, and University of Vermont

This conference remains unchanged. The rivalries many schools have are already built into the schedule. In addition, the reach of the league with their deal through CBS for media rights is pretty decent, along with the impact these programs make. Why change the most compact conference, and one of this sport’s better interest and revenue generators?

CCHA

Western Michigan, Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State University, Ferris State, Bowling Green, Bemidji State, Miami, St. Thomas

Regarding the two former members of this conference leaving the NCHC to return back to it, Miami and Western Michigan, this makes the most sense. It cuts down travel, and brings more marketability back to each program regarding playing their regional rivals. The amount of Michigan Schools in this alone would drive up interest in all of the Michigan programs playing one another, and would allow for some unique marketing of those games to take place. In addition, the only marginally long trip for any of the eastern time zone teams is to St. Thomas or Bemidji State, a far less expensive jaunt for them then their previous trips to the two Alaska institutions we are designating as independent institutions.

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