Well, here we go again.
As you might have heard, the question before our nation today is a dire one: Do we want four more years of relative harmony? Or do we want to blow up the system once again?
I’m talking, of course, about the announcement earlier this week that Minnesota State Mankato had formally applied to join the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, leaving Bemidji State and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association behind.
That’s right: In what is becoming about as consistent as a presidential election, we seem to have hit another cycle of conference realignment in college hockey.
We already got a taste of it earlier this year, when Notre Dame announced it was joining the B1G for hockey-only purposes in 2017.
But that one didn’t hit as close to home as this one did, especially for Bemidji State fans.
Once again, the Beavers seem to be on the outside, not in control of their own fate when it comes to the machinations of college hockey’s power brokers.
Now, some caveats: For one, MSU’s application is far from a done deal. The Mavericks’ president said in the press release Wednesday that it was only an exploratory phase. And WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said he’d do everything in his power to convince the Mavs to stay.
And, furthermore, NCHC commish Josh Fenton also reiterated that the league was nowhere close to making any sort of decision on when or if they decide to add members — remember, Arizona State is also out there.
But still, the news has to be disconcerting for the decision makers at BSU — both in the Sanford Center, in the athletic department and further up the administrative food chain at Deputy Hall.
The Mavericks’ official letter to the NCHC (which you can read in full here thanks to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald) basically says that, competition-wise, they’ve left the rest of the WCHA behind. While technically they aren’t wrong, I’m sure Ferris State and Michigan Tech have some things to say about that. But I digress.
The letter also points to the program’s $5 million commitment to the men’s program in the form of the renovations to the Verizon Wireless Center, as well as their renewal of head coach Mike Hastings’ contract. In addition, it points out the coincidence that Mankto just so happens to be smack dab in the center of the NCHC’s footprint.
But perhaps the kicker, the thing that likely makes the rest of the WCHA cringe, is this line: “We are committed to a wide-open, fast-paced style of play that fans enjoy watching and which allows for the complete growth and development of young student-athletes …”
Obviously, MSU has a great case for induction into the NCHC. They’ve been the most consistent program in the league, even before the first wave of realignment (national tournament success is another story, but that’s not relevant at the moment).
Before you ask: I have no clue what this is going to mean for BSU. There’s too much that can still happen.
I will say that, while many signs point to the Beavers being on the outside once again, the NCHC has many things to consider. First, Arizona State’s status is by no means a given. The Sun Devils seem to have built up their program with elite-caliber talent fairly quickly (look at their roster and their NHL draftees they already have). But they still don’t have a suitable arena. And they haven’t exactly proved themselves on the ice just yet — they struggled mightily in their first year in Division I.
If Arizona State doesn’t get into the NCHC, it’s likely Minnesota State doesn’t either. At least not yet. The NCHC likely wants an even number of teams. They also likely don’t want one team that lags behind all the others when it comes to competition.
Brad’s blog post from yesterday brings up a lot of these points. (And also notes that Bowling Green could also be a dark horse candidate for induction to the NCHC.)
MSU leaving the WCHA wouldn’t kill the league — nine teams isn’t ideal but they’d make it work — but I think it would have a negative effect on BSU, for sure.
Right now, the Beavs and the Mavs are the only two Minnesota teams in the conference. The Bemidji-to-Mankto trip represents the Beavers’ shortest road trip (a cool 264 miles!). If the Mavericks were to leave, the 8-hour drive to Houghton would be the quickest road trip for BSU.
Of course, all the teams in the league have travel issues — two Alaska teams and one from Alabama make that a reality — but this will make the conference schedule that much more of a grind for BSU. Especially if they have to make another road trip to, say, Huntsville, to compensate for losing their instate rivals from the four-times-a-year schedule.
It’s no secret that the WCHA has been the most hard-up of all the existing college hockey leagues, and losing one of their top programs certainly won’t help. I’m sure this is going to cause many schools to look at their options and see what is best for them.
This is far from over, but I thought I’d take it to my readers: What do you guys think?