You’ve undoubtedly heard by now: Notre Dame is leaving Hockey East for the Big Ten (in hockey only, in 2017-18).
As most things do in the college hockey community, this announcement made the Internet go crazy for about 12 hours last night.
It’s a move that makes perfect sense, competitively, geographically and financially, for two of the three parties (although Hockey East seems a bit bummed out by the whole thing judging from their commissioner’s non-statement statement today).
This move, in of itself, doesn’t appear to affect either Bemidji State or the WCHA — yet.
But as we learned from a great piece of cinema, something as insignificant as the flap of a butterfly’s wing can change the course of history forever.
OK, I guess we also learned the same thing when the Big Ten came into existence, but that doesn’t sound as good as a dumb Ashton Kutcher movie.
Getting back to the point: Notre Dame’s move back to its Midwestern home seems to me to be just the first flap in a new realignment shuffle. And while BSU and the WCHA aren’t affected now, there could be some issues in the near future.
Right now the biggest concern is that both the Big Ten (which now has seven teams) and Hockey East (left with 11) will have an odd number of teams. That makes for a scheduling nightmare, but it’s a little bit easier to work around for the New England-based Hockey East, where home-and-homes and midweek games are not uncommon due to proximity.
Odd numbers would be a bit tougher for the Big Ten, which means it would make a whole lot of sense to see them add another team to make it an even eight.
That would seem to indicate that the B1G will add Arizona State — who said they were close to making a conference decision — but I wouldn’t necessarily count on that. Notre Dame is already an established program with a great track record, one which already has rivalries with three of the existing BIG schools dating back to their CCHA days.
Arizona State isn’t there yet, and the Big Ten is already concerned about the quality of the competition after getting just one team into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season. ASU also doesn’t have a suitable arena yet, which could pose more issues.
Still, ASU is a big-time athletic program across all sports and they’d give the Big Ten more eyeballs across the country and possibly have greater exposure for the conference, so it’s not out of the question.
If ASU doesn’t go to the B1G, though, I can see a few scenarios — the craziest of which might cause heads to literally explode across the upper Midwest.
Just imagine: North Dakota. Big Ten.
It sounds nuts, but it could work. The Big Ten automatically gets some legitimacy for its hockey conference, and the Fighting Hawks are reunited with their biggest rival AND the exposure that comes with the Big Ten Network. (And, sure, the NCHC has a national deal right now but how many people ACTUALLY get CBS Sports Network? It’s nowhere compared to what they’d get as a B1G member and any North Dakota fan that says otherwise is deluded.)
There may be a few other options for the B1G in the NCHC — maybe Denver? — but either way that would set off another game of conference realignment musical chairs much like the last time around.
Would the NCHC then go for Arizona State? Or would they poach someone from the WCHA? Minnesota State, perhaps?
WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said during last week’s Final Five that the WCHA, too, was looking to expand — ideally to 12 teams with two divisions. How would that play into this realignment? Robertson didn’t name any names but you’d have to think there are a few schools out there who are looking to start a program that may be motivated by all of this.
For now, I don’t think anything changes at Bemidji State — they’re in the WCHA, and there’s not many more places for them to go. But don’t be surprised if we see more seismic movements in the next two years that change the landscape of college hockey — again.
In the meantime: Notre Dame plays in the NCAA tournament starting Friday. Their first round opponent?
You guessed it. Michigan.
This should be fun.