Thursday, January 15, 2009

On Adding Bemidji State to the WCHA

There will be a vote today amongst WCHA officials to decide whether or not to lift the current moratorium on league expansion. Unless you've been in a cave you probably know that this vote is a result of the Bemidji State Beaver's application to join the WCHA since their league (the CHA) is due to end it's existence at the end of this season. Two events have led to the downfall of the CHA. Wayne State quit playing hockey and the Air Force Academy moved to the AHA. This left the CHA with only 4 teams and the NCAA will not continue to give a conference an autobid to the tournament to a conference with less than 6 teams. The CHA will still get an autobid this year as the NCAA instituted a grace period.

Today's vote by WCHA members is a simple majority vote. If it passes (and it's almost certain to do so) then another vote will be held (most likely during the summer) to evaluate Bemidji's application to join. Eight WCHA teams will have to vote yes at that time for Bemidji's entrance. Overall the WCHA could be considered a bit snooty. The league has it good. It has built a reputation for quality over the years and national championships aplenty. So Bemidji has it's hands full to show that it can carry it's load. They've pretty much done everything right. They've gotten funding for a new arena and plans are in place to make that happen relatively quickly. The team already competes reasonably well in non-conference games with the WCHA. And their geographic advantage is appealing to a number of current WCHA teams.

I've spoken with someone in the know and I've come to the conclusion that Bemidji's application is all but doomed in it's current form (probably only has 4 or 5 yes votes at the maximum). But I believe it can be successful with one big if. IF Bemidji can convince another geographically advantageous team to also apply then they're probably a shoe-in. Nobody wants an 11 team league. It makes for an unbalanced schedule that is worse than the already ugly schedule the WCHA uses. There are two schools which would ensure Bemidji's bid and both of them currently play in the CCHA; UNO and NMU. Either one of these schools joins Bemidji and the WCHA will probably become a 12 team league. If neither does then Bemidji will almost certainly still be on the outside looking in.

Having been a fan of a team in a similar position to Bemidji, I have a certain affinity for their problem. As an independent in the early 90's both UAA and UAF faced an uncertain future. Nobody wants to play a whole season of hockey when there is little or no possibility of contesting for a championship of some kind. Recruiting kids to play in that sort of situation would be all but impossible. UAA and UAF were essentially saved by the WCHA and CCHA adding them to their conferences. Even with all that history in mind and an understanding of what Bemidji is going through, I have to admit to some indifference to their plight. After all, like I said above; the WCHA has got it good.

A big part of me says that Bemidji ought to go back to Division III. After all there are tons of DIII teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin. Bemidji has a long history of performing well at that level. I also was not thrilled with Bemidji Prez Jon Quistagard's histrionic-laden semi-ultimatum last season. It displayed an unwillingness to pursue any other option outside of joining the WCHA. Such ultimatums generate negativity in me.

All that said, there is one primary reason only that I support Bemidji's entry to the WCHA. The loss of Division I teams is likely to jeopardize the current 16 team NCAA tournament at some point. None of the 4 teams in the CHA have certain futures and losing all four would very likely result in contraction to 12 teams for the postseason. Even if Bemidji can't bring another geographically reasonable team with them they should be added to the WCHA.

There are measures that can be taken to make an 11 team conference work reasonably well. The first of which would be to reduce the number of league games from 28. Extra non-conference games could be very useful and profitable for UAA. The NCAA's "Alaska/Hawaii Exemption" is a valuable thing. Less mandatory league games would very likely mean more home games for UAA as teams from around the country would be happy to travel here when it means they get extra home gates in return; especially considering that UAA has a history of supporting the travel costs for teams to come up here and play. As things exist now every WCHA team ends up with more home games than UAA because of the exemption. Dropping the number of mandatory league games provides UAA with the strong possibility of more home games than road games each year. That should translate to more wins. Lastly, such a situation would make those UAA fans who want to play UAF four times a year happy.

Lastly, there are two events on some distant horizon that will likely have a huge effect on the WCHA. The first is that at some point another Big 10 conference member will add hockey. There are 5 Big 10 schools currently playing hockey; Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. If just one of the other Big 10 schools adds hockey then the chances of all those schools forming their own conference are going to be very high (meaning Minnesota and Wisconsin will bail from the WCHA). Additionally, there are Canadian schools looking to join the NCAA and play Division 1. The most likely of those are both located in western Canada making the possibility of a TRUE western league higher at some point (especially if the Big Ten Hockey Conference happens).


Anonymous said...

WCHA expansion moratorium has been lifted.

annabelle said...


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of quality HS players in the Bemidji area (Section 8 in HS there). If in the WCHA they'd compete with ND for top players from there, Roseau, Moorhead, and Theif River Falls. Being born in Bemidji (living in Anchorage now) I would love to see the Beavers in there and make trips to Alaska. Northern Michigan being in the WCHA is an idea I like as well. Actually, it's too bad UAF can't be in the WCHA too with Bemidji. Imagine a WCHA first round playoffs in Anchorage with the oppenent being Fairbanks!

matthew said...

I think you add another team with Bemidji. You keep the schedule how it is: 2Home & 2Away against your rival(total=4),2H against 4 teams(8), 2A against 4 teams(8), and 2H & 2A against 2 teams (8). That's still 28 games (& 6 or 8 Non-Conf).

Designated Rivals:
If UNO joins:
If NMU joins:
If UAF joins:

I like UAF the best: if UAF joins, the schedule could ensure Lower 48 teams could have either @UAA or @UAF every year and have 8 non-conf games. UAA would truly have 6 non-conf, instead of 2or4 against UAF and only 4or2 against others.

Next I like UNO joining, and lastly, NMU... mainly for "designated rival" pairings.

Donald Dunlop said...

UAA and UAF can't be in the same conference the way things are right now. There isn't a single team in the WCHA that would want to travel to Alaska twice and only some major unbalancing of the schedule would prevent that (truth is that it's silly since there really isn't much difference in a 6 hour bus ride versus a 6 hour plane ride).

I say add one team and drop the league # of games to 20. It would be a (as Donald Trump says) HUGE benefit to UAA.

Anonymous said...

Anon, Northern Michigan used to be in the WCHA. When they started having really bad seasons, they bailed to the CCHA. Now they are having more bad seasons. I don't see them coming back to the WCHA.

F2BNG said...

Northern isn't going anywhere unless they are forced to.

As I understand it, NMU's administration feels that since a vast majority of their students and alumni are Michiganders (either Yoopers or downstaters), it makes more sense for their team to be in a conference with in-state foes Michigan, MSU, and LSSU. In fact, NMU's desire to improve their brand presence south of the Bridge is the main reason that the Wildcats moved back to the CCHA in the first place.

In addition, they've had a budding rivalry with UNO for several years now. I believe there's even a minor piece of hardware on the line.

Finally, scheduling Tech OOC a few times per season has successfully sustained their rivalry with us for over a decade. I'm confident they are happy where they are at.

Donald Dunlop said...

I've wondered how serious the NMU talk was ... these things are hard to gauge from a distance. So thanks for the good info ...

I prefer 11 teams to 12 but either would have my support if the WCHA would reduce the 28 game league schedule.

I've always disliked the 28 game league mandate. Every other WCHA team pretty much ends up getting to play 36 games a year while UAA (and UAF for that matter) are limited to 34.

The exemption gravy train for the rest of the WCHA is sure a nice thing for them. The Alaska/Hawaii exemption was originally put in place to encourage teams to schedule games against ak/hw.

But with conference membership those games are mandated anyway ... so in essence the exemption they are getting to play extra games is complete gravy. I could see the NCAA taking it away at some point. Frankly it wouldn't bother me to see it taken away (though it might hurt other UAA sports) just so other WCHA schools are denied that sweet payday.

seawolvesfan said...

i personally would love to see a 12 team WCHA. Bemidji and UAF should join if that happens. DD: teams could fly up here to play us or those now unfrozen bears and then play the other. while the other team goes "down south". but then again that kind of schedule is funky. do we complain when we take what at least 6-7 trips down south? hell no. why should teams complain to come north twice a year?

David said...

I don't think it is even a question as to whether or not the WCHA should expand to 12...who the hell goes with an odd number of teams. That sounds like something the BCS would come up with. BSU is obviously going to apply, in fact if they haven't turned n the application already I would be shocked, UNO is another obvious choice but I think the team to possibly look at might be Air Force. It makes perfect sense (which is why a government run institution would never do it) because of their proximity to CC and DU but not only that they have proven to be a pretty formidable foe since Frank Serratore took over as the Head Coach...a lot better than they were when I was growing up there! AF would be a good fit for the WCHA.

Donald Dunlop said...

I ain't gonna be Air Force. The bolted from (and essentially killed) the CHA so they could be in the same conference as Army. Part of the reasoning also being that at some point Navy would start playing hockey (Navy just built a decent rink).

UNO is happy in the CCHA. They view Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and others as being better recognized (because of football ... and Nebraska is a football CRAZED state) by their potential fans as compared to SCSU, UMD, UAA, Mankato, UND, DU, CC.

An odd number of teams doesn't present a problem in my mind. We already have an ugly unbalanced schedule which is why I say drop the number of league games from 28 to 20 with 11 teams.

Everyone plays everyone else twice and the additional nonconference games should be a positive for the WCHA's RPI. Right now NCAA-wide there are so few comparisons that just ONE loss to the wrong team can keep a team out of the tourney.

Additionally, I think staying at 11 gives you that opening to add UBC once they get everything squared away (2-3 years?) and apply to the NCAA. UBC in the WCHA would give UAA another geographic rival to add to UAF.

MeanEgirl said...

Bemidji sucks. Don't want no stinkin' Beavers in the (Men's) WCHA! >=(

They should just fold their hockey program.

Camp USA said...

I am a UNO fan, and would like for UNO to jump to the WCHA. The drive across Iowa to away games is getting old. We played football against ND and Mankato so they are known in the area. When we play Notre Dame or Michigan at home we get a bunch of local nuts at the game that know nothing about hockey. I would just as soon have opposing fans travel to the game. We would welcome them. We have the 2nd largest arena in CCHA and get decent size crowds. I don't get a say but I am all for the jump. Who wants to go to Detroit for playoffs?

Anonymous said...

I hope that NMU can get back into the WCHA! They left not because they were getting bad like that mis-informed fellow previously said. It was a so-called brainchild idea by Rick Comley and the former President to build more ties to lower Michigan. Well, little did Rick and NMU know that the CCHA is a tainted league, which is enormously biased towards Michigan and Michigan State so much so that it makes most fans sick to their stomachs. I know Coach Walt Kyle loves playing MTU and the WCHA schools. NMU fans should cross their fingers.

maaahty said...

When Dunlop says that the furure of the 16 team NCAA tourney folding is a likely unintended consequence of Bemijdi and the other curent CHA schools not finding homes, I am not sure of a) the logic, and b) what he means by that. How does the folding of a marginal league affect a very popular and well attended NCAA Tourney? When he says the days of the 16 team tourney are numbered possibly, is he suggesting that we go back to a 12 team field, or expansion to a 20 or 24 team field. SO MANY WORTHY teams are already left out of the 16 team field with legit Top 12 teams often getting left on sidelines due to the automatics to the small conferences and to some crazy conference tourney runs gone on by seventh place teams from the powers, I cant see going back in size and - regardless of what happens witth the 4 CHA schools - I would love to see a 20 or 24 team field with regionals that have either 5 teams or 6 w/ either play ins or byes for hi & low (if 5@ site play in, 6@ give top 2 byes)

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