"To say we're in a tenuous state is putting it lightly. We're constantly looking for solutions, but there just don't seem to be any out there right now."
-- Ed McLaughlin, CHA commissioner
After losing its second team in as many years when Wayne State decided to drop its hockey program after last season, the prospect of College Hockey America surviving as a conference appear bleak.
Once a seven-team conference, CHA has only 4 teams remaining -- Robert Morris, Bemidji State, Alabama-Huntsville and Niagara. That leaves the conference 2 teams shy of the required 6 to maintain an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. CHA can maintain its automatic tournament bid for up to 2 seasons as a 5-team conference, but must forfeit its automatic bid when it finally finds a sixth team for as many years as they take this exception.
There are reports that NCAA Director of Championships Tom Jacobs is pushing legislation that would amend NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168 to allow the championship committee for sports that are sponsored by less than 25 percent of a division's membership to develop its own guidelines for dispersing automatic bids. This legislation would allow the CHA to maintain its automatic bid without penalty with only 5 member schools. But that is yet to happen, and at this point, according to first-year CHA Commissioner Ed McLaughlin, it's become more likely the league may be forced to disband in order for each individual program to survive.
"To say we're in a tenuous state is putting it lightly," said McLaughlin, who took over for the league's first and only commissioner, R.H. "Bob" Peters, this past June when the legendary coach and hockey administrator stepped down. "We're constantly looking for solutions, but there just don't seem to be any out there right now. We're simply not anywhere close to where we have to be. We've talked to other conferences about assimilation, but the framework that has been presented has not been feasible for all parties involved.
"Whether it's having these teams stay together in a unit or having each respective team join other conferences, we're looking into it. We've certainly looked at both scenarios and it would be great to keep the CHA together or keep these teams together in some capacity, but at this point the survival of each team has become the ultimate goal."
After watching Air Force leave for Atlantic Hockey following the 2005-06 season, Wayne State's departure may have served as the final blow to this once fledgling conference that began in 1999. But while that is obviously discouraging to McLaughlin, Peters and those who worked so hard to make the CHA work, the potential for more schools to lose their hockey programs and interrupt the development and careers of student-athletes also is a scary thought for McLaughlin.
"Of course we're upset at the real chance that this may be it for the conference, but what's scary and what means the most to us is that this can effect the growth and careers of these student-athletes and we want to minimize that as much as possible," McLaughlin said. "These are good teams and good players. We've had nationally ranked teams, we have had (NCAA) tournament teams, and it would be a shame if these teams can't at least be saved. If the conference disbands then that obviously isn't good, but we want to see these teams find new homes."
The CHA has reached out to other conferences to help the 4 remaining teams to hook on elsewhere. The NCAA also has been helpful in recent months, but many conferences are hesitant to take on more teams, both because of the geography of some of the CHA teams and also the effect it may have on their current teams' chances at making the NCAA Tournament.
One conference that has been rumored as a possible landing spot for CHA teams has been the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, but according to CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos, the CCHA doesn't seem to be an option right now.
"This unfortunately is an old issue that doesn't seem to have a solution," Anastos said. "We have in many ways tried to find solutions, but the difficulty is that as far as our conference goes, we work within a structure that isn't as nimble as some leagues may be and who can create easy solutions. We're restricted by the number of games that we play, and by adding a team or teams, that will have a trickle-down effect. For example, Michigan will not have Western Michigan in their building as much as another team would, and so on.
"Another component is that there are only so many bids available to the NCAA Tournament, so the more teams you add to your league, the higher the number is that compete for your automatic berth. In college hockey, like any college sports, traditional programs seem to have a more than likelihood to qualify for those berths, so then that minimizes the chances for the other schools by making the pool even larger. So finding a solution for them continues to be a difficult one."
Anastos also alluded to the geography of the conference as another stumbling block. In today’s economy, money is an issue, and thus travel costs would come into play here.
"You look at a school like Alabama-Huntsville, and they're just sitting down there by themselves," he said. "I mean, like it or not, economics plays a huge role in these programs and we have to minimize travel costs as much as we can and, as a whole, the proximity of the CHA to the CCHA is not good in that respect. But like I said, we're open to ideas and don't want to see a conference fail like that, but right now, it's just very difficult."
While McLaughlin recognizes those issues, he pointed out that if one or more of the remaining teams in the CHA were to simply be eliminated, then that, too, eventually will have negative effects on the NCAA Tournament.
"There are plenty of issues here and I understand them all, but I'm sure the college hockey world as a whole doesn't want to see the tournament go back to 12 teams after we all fought so hard for 16." -- Ed McLaughlin
"There are plenty of issues here and I understand them all, but I'm sure the college hockey world as a whole doesn't want to see the tournament go back to 12 teams after we all fought so hard for 16," he said.
"Geography is definitely going to be an issue but we're more concerned with the health of these individual programs and placing them in situations where they match up academically and athletically with the other teams. There's a lot of work, but we're going to do our best to help these teams survive."On Campus Clips --
Michigan defenseman Stephen Kampfer suffered skull and neck fractures when he was assaulted earlier this month. According to Kampfer’s mother, Karyn, her son still is adjusting to the collar that will restrict any neck mobility for 6-12 weeks, costing him part or all of the season. Police are investigating a 22 year-old Michigan football player from Ohio and seeking charges from the local prosecutors. Kampfer, drafted in the fourth round of the 2007 Entry Draft by the Anaheim Ducks, set career highs in games, goals and points last season. … According to Insidecollegehockey.com, NCAA committees currently are considering implementing a 3-tier plan that would include re-defining NCAA championship tournament seeding and bracketing. The goal is to minimize travel costs for all championships across all divisions, according to an NCAA memo recently acquired by the web site. If passed and approved by NCAA presidents and its executive committee this January, with the exceptions of No. 1 seeds, the NCAA tournament bracketing philosophy strongly will emphasize geographic proximity -- keeping eastern teams in the east and western teams in the west. Instead of seeding teams based on protecting bracket integrity, as has been done in recent years, only four of 16 teams would be seeded, earning top seeds in each region. The rest of each region would be determined by geography, minimizing travel expenses for participating teams. … Colorado College escaped Potsdam, N.Y. still unbeaten and still atop the NHL.com Top 10. They tied Clarkson twice, with goaltender Richard Bachman coming up huge in the second of the 2-game set, making 40 saves in a 2-2 tie. Clarkson’s Paul Karpowich kept his team in the game with 28 stops.
Author: James Murphy | NHL.com Correspondent