Tuesday, March 24, 2009

WCHA Expansion: My Thoughts

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.


Anonymous said...

If bemidji came in to the league they would go after more manitoba players and saskatchewan players.
Bemidji and minnesota state were after clarkie but he chose uaa, closer proxmity to junior a teams would make it more attractive for canadians to go south.
I would not be against bemidji entering the league. The govenor's cup should stay. Uaa play 36 games now. They were off all of december last year. While other teams played. Change is inevitable, uaa must make it attractive for recruits to come play hockey in anchorage. A winning season next year, would be a great start. The wcha is the premier league in hockey, sometime I wish achorage would appreciate how lucky they are to have a team in the wcha.


sitkafan said...

UAA womens basketball team advanced to the Final Four just now, 66-59 over Clayton State.
In the Final Four, their first game is again Minnesota State-Mankato.

Donald Dunlop said...

The NCAA limit on D1 hockey is 34 games. The only way to play more than 34 regular season games is to have an exemption that comes from playing UAA or UAF in Alaska. The NCAA created this exemption to encourage teams to come to Alaska and play games.

And I don't see any hockey people in Anchorage that dont recognize and appreciate that the team is in WCHA.

UAA08 said...

This exemption is the reason Alaska sports can compete with teams all over the nation. In basketball, this exemption is the same, and teams can go to Alaska or Hawaii to play to receive the exemption. I agree with Donald. Nobody in Alaska hockey is oblivious to the strength of our schedule. Bemidji needs us. We don't need them.

Anonymous said...

What a bad game by UAA women. They had 31 turnovers. Kielpinski had 3 fouls with like 8:00 left in the 1st half. But, they found a way to win. Way to go UAA!!

Donald Dunlop said...

The UAA women should thank me for starting some kitchen chores when they were down by 13. After I put the leftovers in the fridge and squared away a couple of dishes I came back and they were up by 2!

Anonymous said...

Move Tech to the CCHA and move UAF to the WCHA

Anonymous said...

I am not sure it's as easy as you say to schedule non-conference games. They might have the exemption but the travel is not ideal for a sport that has the VAST majority of its teams east of the Mississipi. The other teams are not going to have any more non-conference games, so it will still be a fight to get a team to forgo their tournament invites or find teams who can schedule to come up here in the midst of their busy conference schedule. We will be fighting with the the bigger WCHA Schools to schedule the 45 or so other teams. Basically the WCHA would have to schedule non-conference games against its other teams. While it sounds good, Donald, there is no way it could work very well in practice, at least while college hockey is as small and easterncentric as it is.

Bo Darville said...

Couldn't the WCHA add Northern Michigan, Bemidji, Fairbanks, and Omaha and just play everybody twice?

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