(Photo Credit-LSSU Athletics)
Alabama Huntsville Athletic Director Cade Smith confirmed what has been rumored. The Chargers are awaiting word from the Atlantic Hockey Association on potentially joining it next season. This pitch, as John Buccigross first reported, includes a $25,000 per series subsidy for at least the next ten years to help all institutions defray the costs of coming to Huntsville. This per-series subsidy also includes all playoff series that UAH would host. With this being one of the biggest barriers to joining the conference, having the financial support, and institutional backing, combined with a plan to scale the revenue opportunities for UAH was a critical first step to get this program where it wants, which is a new conference home.
For scheduling purposes, the Chargers could potentially play an unbalanced schedule, should they be awarded membership in Atlantic Hockey, as a way to see every team come to the Von Braun Center at least every other season, while further reducing the time and travel burdens that this would impose for the more northern members of the league, like Sacred Heart. This would limit the need for teams to travel outside of the northeast, still give UAH plenty of opponents to play, and ensure that its fans see the entire conference take on the Chargers in Huntsville ideally at least every two seasons.
At the end of the day, Smith said that, for the current members of the conference that “it’s a bottom line conversation,” and also noted of a potential announcement his increased optimism in the past few weeks. The members have all seen Alabama Huntsville’s pitch, and should have a decision on it in a few weeks. The timeline to approve or deny the pitch has been somewhat delayed due to schools dealing with Covid-19 outbreaks that have come in waves over different teams.
Throughout this process, Smith has had conversations with key figures in Atlantic Hockey, including its Commissioner Robert M. DeGregorio, Jr. who has been nothing but supportive in the quest for Alabama Huntsville to become a member. Smith did note the reality of this process, that is, it is a decision for its members to make, not its leader. Seven members need to approve the application to have the Chargers become the twelfth member of a league, and give it a foothold in the southeast United States. From the beginning of this process, Alabama Huntsville, and those working with it on the Advisory Board have had nothing but praise for the league office in giving them a chance to lay out their vision for the future. As part of that vision, and in their pitch, the Chargers have included concepts for an on campus arena. Building this would only happen if the Chargers could find a new conference home.
In addition to the reality faced by Alabama Huntsville and the consistent support received by its administration, Smith has received mentorship from potential future conference mates . He has talked with athletic administrators at Army West Point, who have provided assistance in crafting the pitch, along with key figures at Robert Morris University, new home of former UAH Head Coach, Mike Corbett.
From a competitive standpoint, Atlantic Hockey also makes sense, as the Chargers would be facing a few of their old CHA rivals, and forge new ones. Alabama Huntsville would face off against rivals Niagara, Robert Morris, and Air Force, in addition to eight other up and coming programs across the east coast. Smith has been encouraged to see the competitive nature of the team this year, and thinks that their revival has helped his department at large. Of this fact he said, “some of our fans that have gone to other sports have bought some tickets to hockey this year.”
That is, Alabama Huntsville fans of their other superb Division Two programs are starting to come out to see their only division one offering this year. Through all of this, Smith and the Chargers are doing their best to be flexible, and work to adress any concerns of Atlantic Hockey members as they arise, while providing a glimpse into a new market for this conference. All those rooting for Alabama Huntsville can do now is wait.
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