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A frightening future/The Red Line

July 7, 2011
By Brandon Veale - DMG Sports Editor (bveale@mininggazette.com) , The Daily Mining Gazette

I can only take so much disbelief these days. Last weekend, I watched the same little sister I hit over the head with a tennis racket many, many years ago (it was an accident, I promise) get married.

Then I come home to find that the very fabric of college hockey is being dangerously stretched, perhaps even ripped asunder.

Of course, you probably know that the Big Ten is forming a hockey league to begin play in the 2013-14 season. That deal was completed back in March, and was probably destined to happen as soon as Terry Pegula wrote a massive check to Penn State to start a varsity hockey program and build an arena.

It's getting worse.

Multiple sources are now reporting that talks are underway for several of college hockey's 'haves,' reportedly, Notre Dame, Western Michigan and Miami from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and North Dakota, Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, Colorado College and Minnesota Duluth from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, to take the money and run, forming a new league and leaving a lot of teams (like Michigan Tech) out in the cold.

I only began to understand the core of the issue when I attended the Associated Press Sports Editors' meeting in May. The keynote speaker was University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon. When asked about this, he said:

"I will sell more seats at Yost Arena knowing that we are going to tee it up against our big competitors in the Big Ten," Brandon said. "We'll still have a robust nonconference schedule but at the end of the day, student-athletes that come to Michigan come to win Big Ten championships."

As AnnArbor.com noted, U-M's announced attendance average at 18 home games last year was already more than Yost Arena's listed 6,637-seat capacity.

The seats the Big Ten is more worried about are yours: on your couch, watching the Big Ten Network and keeping the cash flow coming.

The Big Ten Network isn't coming to Houghton any time soon to televise a game. Heck, I doubt much of the Big Ten would do many trips to the U.P. if they weren't required to do so.

But in the end, the Big 10 is big business, and their hockey league is one big business decision. If it were about good hockey, would they have admitted a start-up program and two teams that finished second- and third-to-last in the CCHA last year? (Michigan State and Ohio State, respectively.)

But that second group, the North Dakotas, Notre Dames and the like, are playing a different game entirely. A 10-team WCHA would work just fine for most people, but apparently not for those who'd rather not deal with the unfashionable (and untelevisable) riff-raff from Anchorage, Mankato, or worse, Houghton. There's no brand here to protect or a cable channel to air games on. It's just exclusionary in nature.

In this day and age, it's probably a miracle that a Division II school, Minnesota Duluth, is the defending national champion. Most D-IIs just don't have the werewithal to compete consistently at the top of the arms race college hockey has become in the last 20 years.

Given time and these plans, it's tough to imagine some of them competing at all.

The refugees from this expansion would be Alaska (Fairbanks), Alaska-Anchorage, Ferris, Lake Superior St., Bowling Green, Minnesota State, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Tech and Northern Michigan.

That's enough for a league, but is it enough of a field to sustain some of these programs, especially in a world where transportation costs big bucks and budgets are made to be slashed?

Let me be clear: I highly, highly doubt that this arrangement will be the end of Michigan Tech hockey any time soon. The will to have Division I hockey in Houghton has survived worse crises than no home games with Denver.

But a future where most of its smaller schools are perpetually second-class citizens is terrible for the game and woefully ignorant of its heritage. I hope someone realizes that and puts a stop to this nonsense.

So, I'll wait for the smoke to clear and keep polishing off leftovers from the wedding reception. Hopefully, I'll be the only one polishing off leftovers for a while.

Brandon Veale can be reached at bveale@mininggazette.com.

 
 

 

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