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Monday, May 04, 2009

UAF Nanooks to the WCHA

The University of Alaska Nanook hockey team should immediately begin considering moving to the WCHA. An opening for a 12th team in the WCHA is available because the CHA has folded and existing college hockey conferences are making attempts to save faltering programs. Two schools remain without a conference; Alabama-Huntsville and Bemidji St. Bemidji State is the only school to have applied during the WCHA's filing period. They presented their case at the recent NCAA meetings in Florida.

WCHA commish Bruce McLeod made it clear that the WCHA considers a 12 team league the goal of expansion. Much talk had been focused on Northern Michigan or University of Nebraska Omaha as the 12th team. Northern has officially (for the 2nd time) said they are not interested. UNO just hired a new Athletic Director within the past few days.

I believe the WCHA could find a UAF bid very acceptable. But first, would it be a good move for UAF? There are a few things to look at but overall I can't see much if/any negative. The WCHA has plenty of elite opponents to help fill the Carlson. Over the past decade the WCHA has proven to be slightly superior in non-conference action versus the CCHA. Most observers give the nod to the WCHA as "the premier" conference in college hockey.

By joining the WCHA UAF would instantly gain a 4 game per year series with UAA and the rivalry could fully blossom again. UAF's tournament would continue to be a going enterprise along with it's participation in UAA's tourny. Trips to WCHA cities would cost about the same per season as trips UAF takes to CCHA cities; perhaps a little less but not significantly so.

Why would the WCHA like it? Three words "The Alaska Exemption". Currently, everyone in the WCHA (except Mankato) comes to UAA only every other year. Mankato is the one WCHA team that gets the financial benefit of having the extra home games every year. Everyone else only gets it once every two years.

In some cases, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of extra dollars in the coffers of WCHA teams. UND, Minnesota and Wisconsin in particular would see the biggest $$$. But having those exempted games gives St. Cloud, Duluth, CC, DU and MTU the ability to host their own tournament every year or perhaps do something else creative with their schedule.

With UAF in the WCHA along with UAA, every team in the league would be able to travel to Alaska every year. Putting money into someone's pocket is the quickest way to get their vote. UAF to the WCHA puts money into everyone's pocket. Why wouldn't the WCHA like it? UAF has the sort of stability that the WCHA purports to be necessary for inclusion. They have a long tradition and excellent community support.

Why would the CCHA like it? They wouldn't. Quite frankly, it would be a bit of a blow. But it would be a bit of a blow no matter who they lose. If UNO goes, it's not best for the CCHA. If UAF goes, it's not a good thing either. But it really looks like if Huntsville is to find a home, the only place that makes sense for them is the CCHA. It's not a bad regional fit.

UAF should jump into the pond before the new AD at UNO figures out exactly how warm the water is. They currently play to 6,000 folks in a mostly empty 18,000 seat arena. Do you think that place would be mostly empty when Minnesota, UND or Wisconsin show up? Nope. Again, UAF should immediately make an overture to the WCHA. They have more to offer than either Bemidji or UNO. But I think Bemidji's membership in a 12 team scenario is all but given. If UAF doesn't move then they risk the future growth of their hockey program. If UNO jumps in before UAF, they could likely grow into a premier program. The fact that UNO folks don't know that today is to UAF's benefit. Get on it Forrest.