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Historic NCAA transitions coming in 2013

by Bob Snow /
The dust has finally settled after a tumultuous spring and summer for the NCAA.

Not since the six Ivy teams threatened to secede from the ECAC union in the mid-1980s -- causing then Providence College athletic director and current New Jersey Devils president and GM Lou Lamoriello to initiate the formation of a new Hockey East league -- has the college game experienced such dramatic change.


The emerging NCAA landscape in 2013 -- and a few remaining questions and rumors:

* The Big Ten League will begin play with the new program from Penn State joining storied Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the current CCHA, and Wisconsin and Minnesota from the current WCHA.

* The new National Collegiate Hockey Conference recently announced it will begin with eight member teams: North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and St. Cloud State from the current WCHA, and Miami and Western Michigan from the current CCHA.

* The newly realigned WCHA includes: Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Minnesota State-Mankato from the current WCHA, and Northern Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Bowling Green from the current CCHA.

* Hockey East adds Notre Dame to its complement of Boston University, Boston College, Northeastern, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Lowell, Providence, Vermont and Merrimack.

* The ECACHL remains currently intact with Yale, Union, Cornell, Rensselaer, Dartmouth, Quinnipiac, Colgate, Clarkson, Harvard, Princeton, St. Lawrence and Brown.

* The Atlantic Hockey League currently remains intact with Rochester Institute of Technology, Air Force, Holy Cross, Niagara, Connecticut, Robert Morris, Mercyhurst, Army, Canisius, Bentley, Sacred Heart and American International

Some lingering questions and rumors ...

Does Hockey East pursue that one more team to create a balanced 12-team league? One rumor has Rensselaer jumping ship from the ECACHL to become that 12th team, while Air Force takes RPI's slot by leaving Atlantic. Common sense geographically has AF becoming the WCHA's 10th team. Another has UConn leaving Atlantic to expand Hockey East's complement of "State" teams: New Hampshire, UMass, Vermont and Maine.

Does the WCHA admit Alabama-Huntsville as its 10th team? The Chargers recently played in the NCAA Tournament, but were passed up for membership in the CCHA when the former four-team College Hockey Association was disbanded two years ago with Bemidji State going to the WCHA and Niagara and Robert Morris joining Atlantic? Or does A-H take AF or UConn's slot in Atlantic? Or get left out in the cold? They played a stepchild independent schedule last year -- and will do so again this year.

Again, stay tuned.

-- Bob Snow
Beginning in 2013, the new alignment of leagues and teams will make the changes 25 years ago a walk in the park compared with a NASCAR finish.

What caused this reorganizational tsunami?

"[Benefactor and alum] Terry Pegula's generous gift [of $88 million] to Penn State was the genesis for change, as it gave the Big Ten conference the minimum number of schools (six) required to stage a Big Ten championship in a sport," said CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch, who succeeded Tom Anastos last spring when he took the job as head coach at his alma mater Michigan State.

Anastos, one of 10 new coaches this season and the feature next week, saw CCHA-dissolution writing on that wall, opting to return to Spartan land, where he played in the 1980s.

"We have really witnessed the stratification of college hockey over the summer," Pletsch said about the next major domino that fell with major impact on the WCHA. "The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) was formed by 'like-minded' schools [North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College from the WCHA and Miami from the CCHA] that consider hockey to be their marquee sport.

"Geography and institutional philosophy were then important factors in discussions between the remaining CCHA and WCHA teams."

"The changing landscape from a WCHA perspective is disappointing and sad," Bruce MacLeod, the dean of commissioners, told about the major restructuring of the prestigious league with 36 national titles. "But it is what it is and we move on. The next two years we are going to continue business as normal as we can and try and finish this era of the WCHA on a positive note as much as we can."

With last week's announcement that CCHA power Notre Dame will join Hockey East as its 11th team in 2013, only the Atlantic Hockey League and the ECACHL remain intact, albeit with rumors swirling that a final tweaking may come to get Hockey East to a balanced 12 teams.

"We would welcome Notre Dame with open arms," Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said a few weeks back, foreshadowing the Fighting Irish joining many like schools from religious-based, athletic-rivalry and hockey-quality perspectives.
"Given that the changes are not complete, I would rather not comment until all the smoke has cleared. I will say this: College hockey will survive the instability.

"The one common denominator connecting old and new leagues now is branding, and television will play a big part of that," Bertagna concluded.

The other connecting piece is the establishment of College Hockey, Inc., established last year by the five leagues to unify Division I by not only advancing the public relations end of college hockey as the best decision for aspiring players, but also to serve as an umbrella for the mission-and-vision piece within major decisions off the ice.

"We're hopeful," said College Hockey Inc.'s executive director Paul Kelley, "and I think with good reason, that the changing landscape will bring more attention to college hockey. In addition, we think it will add some excitement on campus from teams competing for new league championships and other teams that may have better opportunities to challenge for league titles than they did before. In the meantime, we've got a great product that we're very proud of."'s Top 10

1. Boston College 2-0-0
2. Michigan 3-0-0
3. Notre Dame 1-1-0
4. Denver 0-0-0
5. Miami 1-1-0
6. North Dakota 1-1-0
7. Colorado College 0-0-0
8. Boston University 1-0-0
9. Minnesota-Duluth 1-1-0
10. Yale 0-0-0
No doubt these opening weeks have brought much more attention to college hockey, as the final questions and answers around re-alignment fall into place.

Stay tuned.

On Campus Clips: Twenty senior student-athletes who excel both on and off the ice were selected as candidates for the 2012 Lowe's Senior CLASS Award. The winner will be announced before the Hobey Baker announcement at the Frozen Four on April 6 in Tampa. An acronym for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School, the complement includes the following: Chad Billins, Ferris State; Jack Connolly, Minnesota-Duluth; Tommy Cross, Boston College; Mike Daly, Holy Cross; Matt Di Girolamo, New Hampshire; Sean Duddy, Ohio State; Brad Eidsness, North Dakota; Ryan Flanigan, Merrimack; Scott Greenham, Alaska-Fairbanks; Chris Haltigin, RIT; Doug Jones, Dartmouth; Drew LeBlanc, St. Cloud State; Sean Lorenz, Notre Dame; Jack Maclellan, Brown; Taylor Matson, Minnesota; Will O'Neill, Maine; Cody Reichard, Miami; Keir Ross, Cornell; Ian Slater, Western Michigan; and Paul Weisgarber, Air Force. ... Boston College won the Ice Breaker Tournament in Grand Forks last Saturday night over host North Dakota, 6-2, officially kicking off the new season.

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