As most of you are aware, the WCHA is entertaining expansion possibilities. Back in February they voted to end their long moratorium on expansion. This was done mostly as a reaction to College Hockey America's demise. So far there is one primary applicant that is known. Bemidji State in Minnesota has an obvious geographic affinity with 5 other Minnesota teams already in the WCHA. There is a fair bit of speculation that Northern Michigan might also be interested in returning to the WCHA (and nobody at Northern is denying it). So with the possibility of expansion comes much discussion about how an 11 or 12 team league might work scheduling wise. Most (if not all) of that discussion focuses on an expanded use of the current method of assigning "rivalries" etc.
Here's the nuts and bolts; the WCHA mandates a 28 game league schedule. To get to 28 games the 10 teams in the league must play each other an uneven number of times during the season. The way it's currently set up, balance is only acheived every two years. Thank Donnie Lucia for the current schedule as it was originally his proposal (yes ... Lucia says UAA and Mankato are "rivals"). Expanding to 11 or 12 teams means the already unbalanced schedule becomes even more unbalanced. And since everyone wants to see the "big boys" come to their rink there are all sorts of Lucia-like propositions that favor making regional rivalries etc ... and none of them are any different/better than the mess we already have. But of course I've got a much better solution that doesn't seem to be part of the discussion.
Reduce the number of league mandated games. The WCHA plays 28 games to protect itself. It's an insular effort that does help keep the league strong but it doesn't do anything except hurt the WCHA in big picture terms. It is part of the reason that the WCHA only got three teams into the tournament this season. With only 6 non-conference games for each league team the number of comparisons for RPI/PWR purposes is low enough that any non-conference losses can hurt dramatically come tournament time.
So, if the WCHA expands; it should seriously consider dropping the number of league games to whatever level balances it. If there are 11 teams then there should be 20 league contests for each team. If there are 12 teams then there should be 22 league games. So instead of 6 non-conference games each league team would play 12 or 14. The only argument I've heard against such a proposal is that coaches would have extra work making up their non-conference schedules. Aw ... the poor coaches would have to make some extra phone calls during the off-season.
Someone moaned to me that they wouldn't want to give up their 4 game rivalry with "X". Then play "X" in non-conference games. Hockey East teams play non-conference games against each other every year. Dropping the league mandate doesn't mean that Minnesota and Wisconsin can't play each other 4 times a year. Hell, if they wanted to they could play each other 8 times under my proposal. CC and DU would get to play each other 4 times every season. UAA and UAF could return to 4 games a year. And any other real rivals would be free to maintain their rivalries as well.
Is WCHA expansion a done deal? Far from it. To add a team, 75% of league teams would have to vote yes. That means 8 out of the current 10 teams. As it stands today there are 4 schools which look like they'll vote no. UAA, Michigan Tech, DU and CC. My proposal would most likely turn UAA to a yes vote. The Seawolves have the advantage of the NCAA exemption and would have no problem getting opponents to come to their rink. Adding NMU could very well be enough to get Michigan Tech's vote as they have an existing strong rivalry with Northern. That would seem to be enough to reach the 8 votes needed.
The bottom line is that UAA should vote against expansion unless it comes with a reduced league schedule. A yes vote from UAA without such a change would be stupid.