Did the CCHA seal UAH’s fate?

It goes without saying that college hockey cannot afford to lose programs. Thus my initial disappointment in the CCHA last week when then denied Alabama-Huntsville admission. By doing so, the conference may have hammered the final nail into the Chargers’ coffin as a hockey program.

As we enter the final year of the CHA, Robert Morris (Atlantic Hockey), Air Force (Atlantic Hockey) and Bemidji State (WCHA) have all found new homes for 2010, leaving just UAH out of the picture.

Last month, when the WCHA announced that it would take Bemidji State as well as Nebraska-Omaha jumping from the CCHA, many assumed that it had opened the door and left the CCHA no other choice than to admit UAH to keep its league with an even number.

But the CCHA decided it was better off without Huntsville, denying the program’s bid for admission and leaving the school with the option of either competing as an independant or folding.

From a pure business decision, it’s absolutely the proper move for the CCHA. UAH simply doesn’t bring much to the table. The only reason for the CCHA to take on UAH would be to ensure a program’s future that they have no connection or need for.

The CCHA made a decision based on the health of its current member schools, which are the only ones it has a responsibility to. It’s not the CCHA’s responsibility to clean up the CHA’s mess.

College Hockey New’s Adam Wodon wrote a brilliant piece breaking down the reasoning and explaining the CCHA’s side. I have to give Wodon credit, he wrote back when Nebraska-Omaha jumped to the WCHA that it wasn’t a forgone conclusion that the CCHA would take UAH aboard, and he was ridiculed in many online forums for his opinion.

UAH is a tough sell for any conference. From a historical standpoint there isn’t much they can offer other than increased travel budgets. They’re simply a program that nobody wants.

I, for one, hope that the Chargers can find a way to stay alive, even if it is as an independent (which despite being a daunting task, they have done in the past). In an economic climate where it’s tough for any business to expand, college hockey cannot afford contraction, even if it is just its redheaded stepchild.

35 Comments

  1. Geof – Not that there were other “nalis” per say, but I guess you could backtrack and say that the CHA's disbanding was nail No. 1, the defection (or finding new homes) by Bemidji, Air Force and Robert Morris nail No. 2 and finally the CCHA, their only real hope of staying alive (unless they go back to independent) rejecting them.

    Basically, the CCHA decided they were better off down one team than taking on UAH, and it's hard to argue. Not that I'm going out of my way to hammer UAH, I want to see them stick around, it's good for the sport, but they have nothing to offer the CCHA.

    Outside of the CCHA taking them on simply to save them, which wouldn't be responsible to the rest of the teams in the league (playing UAH would hurt their RPI, would it not?), there was no other reason outside of an entry fee and some extra cash.

    I want to see UAH survive, but it's hard to argue with the CCHA's decision.

    Someone give me a good reason why the CCHA should take UAH that isn't “to save the program” …

  2. I've discussed this with both Geof and Adam…a big thing to keep in mind is, this is far from over. The CCHA's decision is not what UAH wanted, but I don't think it necessarily means the end of their chances to join that league — or another one, for that matter.

    Overall, the landscape is different today than it was in the early 90s, when the CCHA and WCHA worked together to each give one of the Alaska schools a home. That was certainly done “for the good of college hockey”. I think for a while now, we have seen that leagues — not limited to either of these — are more likely today to do what they feel is in the best interest of their league. And what is in the best interest of their programs, because decisions like this are truly ones where each school gets to decide and vote on what they think is best for them.

    There is a debt that is owed by all of college hockey, not just any one league, to help a UAH program that has more than proven itself to be viable. The expansion of the D1 tournament to 16 teams was only possible because of the establishment of the CHA and the AHA (then MAAC). This has led to more opportunities for the “big four” leagues to get teams into the national tournament. Therefore it behooves everyone to help those programs.

    That doesn't mean the CCHA is obligated to admit UAH. The CCHA is an easy target right now, but I also think it was not fair to put the entire burden on the CCHA. What I believe should happen at this point is that there needs to be a concerted effort by the rest of D1 hockey to ensure that even if UAH does have to go it alone as an Independent at least for the near future (assuming things do not change with respect to the CCHA or other leagues — and I think they very well may change), they won't really be “alone”.

    That means some kind of scheduling agreement that guarantees UAH will have games to play, and not just against whomever they can get. I would like to see all the leagues work with their members to arrange games with UAH including trips to Huntsville — and this means some trips by some of the bigger name schools too. It won't work if the only games UAH can get are ones against the lower tier teams in the remaining leagues.

    At the least, this will give UAH a chance to recruit good players by telling them they will be playing high profile opponents home and away, and they'll have a chance to make the tournament as an at-large team because they'll play a quality schedule. It won't be easy — no more chance to win two games in the CHA tournament and get an automatic bid regardless of how your season went. But, with the CHA breaking up, that ship has sailed, there is nothing that can be done about that.

    I see this as similar to what happened in the late 80s and early 90s before the Independents all went into leagues. The rest of D1 did schedule Independent teams, although it was not coordinated nor did it need to be. Now it may be necessary to coordinate it. It seems like a good task for the commissioners to tackle. I have to think it's one of the items near the top of their agenda if not at the top.

    Despite this latest development, I feel confident in saying everyone wants to see UAH succeed and I think they can. But they will need some help too. And they deserve to get it.

  3. I agree with Mike Machnik. If we were a perfect fit for the CCHA, they'd have taken us. We weren't. They chose not to do that, as is their right. I certainly don't have to like that, and we're making our voices heard in that regard. 🙂

    Mike McMahon, the fun thing to note about those nails is that UAH didn't hammer a one of them home. Findlay, Wayne State, Iona, Fairfield, etc. all failed because they couldn't or wouldn't continue to put the resources into making a D-I program go. UAH is willing to do it—everything I hear from the school is that we'll make a run as an independent—and we're getting screwed for circumstances beyond our control.

  4. I never said UAH nailed anything … you're not understanding me.

    I want UAH to survive, I wrote that in my first graph. If UAH decides that it wants to go the independent route (which, as you know, it has done in the past), I say great! College hockey can't afford to lose any programs, bottom line.

    This all goes back to the CHA failing miserably as a league, and Geoff, you're right that ultimately that goes back to former schools' unwillingness to put resources behind its programs.

    But, at the same time, I understand the CCHA's decision to deny UAH's admission. The CCHA does not have a responsibility to UAH to take them on board simply to keep the program alive (and as you said, the CCHA isn't a necessary piece to keep UAH alive anyway). … The CCHA only has a responsibility to its current members and they deemed that it was not responsible to grant UAH admission for their own reasons.

    Along the lines of what Wodon wrote, the CCHA is NOT the bad guys here. Ultimately, there isn't really any bad guys. It's unfortunate what has happened to UAH (to no fault of their own) but the fact of the matter remains that the CCHA had no obligation to take the program into its conference.

    And furthermore, no one has given me a good reason why the CCHA should have taken UAH. The program needs to survive one way or another at the DI level, that we all agree on. If it's as an independent, then so be it. As Machnik pointed out, however, there needs to be some sort of plan in place for UAH to get itself games (both home and away). But then you fall back into a similar argument re: the CCHA-UAH. Are the other leagues (HE, CCHA, AH, WCHA) responsible for making sure UAH has a full slate of games? Well, no they're not.

    I understand you're not happy about the CCHA's decision, you have every right not to be (and for the record, I joined the Save UAH hockey group on Facebook :))

    But again, let me be clear, UAH needs to survive somehow, and however that is, I'm all for it.

  5. I have still yet to read an article making a compelling argument for why rejecting UAH is in the best interest of the CCHA members.

  6. I just can't see what we don't bring to the table that half the league doesn't, other than the fact that we're in Alabama and not Michigan or Ohio.

    While the CCHA accepting UAH isn't 100% vital to our survivability, it would have been really good. Yes, we've been a D-I independent before, but those were different days in D-I hockey.

  7. Merrimack was an Independent for about 4-5 years in the late 80's but there were about ten other independents at the time. But neither HEA or ECAC was interested in MC. When HEA's scheduling agreement with the WCHA ended they finally asked MC to join.

  8. Mike — “Are the other leagues (HE, CCHA, AH, WCHA) responsible for making sure UAH has a full slate of games? Well, no they’re not.”

    IMO they are (add the ECAC too). This is what I mean about owing a debt to the programs that made expansion of the tournament possible. Even if the other schools want to look at it in a purely selfish way, it still makes sense. That would be, if too many more programs do fold, the NCAA will step in and lower the tournament from 16 teams again.

    Chief — you are right of course…it was a combination of factors. The WCHA took SCSU and ended the interlocking schedule because they wanted to continue with four games per league opponent, they were not drawing as well at home vs the HE teams as they were vs other WCHA teams. That would push them over the then 38 game limit — 4 games x 8 WCHA opp = 32, + 7 more games vs the then 7 HE teams = 39. So they told HE they were ending the agreement. There was not enough support within HE to increase the league games from 3 per opp to 4, so they would have been stuck with an 18 game league schedule. Less than half the 38 game limit. It's not an overstatement to say HE was scrambling at that time for a solution.

    MC for its own part was in the middle in a way too. The ECAC East was effectively pushing them out by enacting rules limiting the involvement of league members that offered scholarships — and requiring X number of league games if I recall correctly too. The NCAA was also about to require that teams play 20 or more D1 games to be eligible for the D1 tournament. It wasn't going to be possible to play in the ECAC East and be eligible for the D1 tourney any longer. So MC was in need of a home — and planned to apply to HE after spending two years as an Independent to get ready for the move (and sell the powers that be at MC as well as in HE on the idea). Instead, HE asked them to join right away in 1989, and when it was explained to the powers that be at MC that they had no home — and this league is forcing us out, but this other one wants us right now — it was an easy decision.

    I always thought however, that it was too bad that MC was forced to hang in limbo as long as they did. They went the better part of a year not being able to tell recruits where they'd play. I recall several who were interested but opted to go elsewhere rather than wait. That is not a situation UAH should have to be in.

  9. Long time reader, just wanted to say how much my friends and I enjoy your blog, hopefully we'll make it up to the mack this season when we play you guys.

  10. Geof – I applaud your efforts but you're starting to disregard reality. The fact is that UAH does not offer much to the CCHA. They are not in a recruiting hotbed, and while they are roughly the same distance as UNO was, the program has little history of D1 success outside of a couple of CHA championships. The argument I've seen – let us in and we'll get better! – is not a convincing one to the CCHA since there's no way to prove it. Yes, you have a good-sized arena and average a good crowd for being a CHA team, but are far outweighed in that department by UNO. Also don't forget that Omaha is a USHL recruiting hotbed. I agree with Mike in this regard that it's difficult to find what UAH would ADD to the CCHA. That's the main point – what do they add? The answer: not much. They'd be another Ferris State/BG but much farther away. In that regard, UAH and UNO are not an even comparison.

    That said, there is something to be said for bettering the sport overall. Mike makes another good point that the tournament being at 16 teams benefits the bigger conferences. While at this point it may not be a good move for the CCHA to admit UAH, I think it is absolutely the CCHA (especially with 11 teams) and some of the other conferences to commit to helping schedule games with UAH if they choose to go independent. Perhaps they could negotiate a scheduling agreement with the CCHA since there'll be an odd team out each week, similar to what Bemidji did with the WCHA.

    Again, the UAH fan uproar has been noticeable, but in order for it to be viable you have to look at the facts in addition to the clear emotions that are involved here.

  11. I have gone to UAH games since i was in diapers and UAH hockey got me to play hockey. I went to the UAH Notre Dame game in 2007 that went into double overtime and that there proves UAH has talent.

  12. Ok, had enough of this bogus hockey hotbed business. Omaha a hockey hotbed? Ridiculus. Do some journalism if you're going to write an article. Check the USHL's Omaha Lancers roster

    http://www.lancers.com/leagues/rosters.cfm?clientid=1996&leagueid=4581&teamid=176499

    The hockey hotbed of Nebraska is responsible for exactly ZERO players. Only one from neighboring state Missouri. California boasts as many or more than Minnesota. Even a couple from Texas. ZERO from the “hockey hotbed of Iowa”?!@? What, Iowa has 5 USHL teams – holy batman they can play some hockey in Iowa. Hockey hotbed baby, better get some sunscreen. WRONG! Just checked DesMoines roster and the hotbed of Nebraska had… wait for it… drum roll please… ZERO!!!

    Now, do some thinking on how so many players are coming from warm weather locations such as California and Texas. Players are starting to come from the southeast and Huntsville is part of the growth. So how many players make a hobed? Do we just need a junior team to be considered a hotbed.

    The USHL is the premier US Junior hockey league every aspiring college player heads towards. It hardly makes Nebraska (or Iowa) a hockey hotbed. It does say that Nebraska is a place where people will come out to watch good hockey.

    Guess what, so do people in Huntsville, Alabama.

  13. Note to Mike McMahon: I meant to delete the following line before hitting submit.

    “Do some journalism if you’re going to write an article.”

    Comment was directed at all the general hockey hotbed comments.

  14. If being in a “recruiting hotbed” were a requirement for good hockey, it would barely exist below the Canadian border.

    Jared Ross, Philadelphia Flyers, NHL. College hockey: UAH Hometown: Huntsville, Alabama.
    Nic Dowd, 2009 NHL Draft pick for the LA Kings. Hometown: Huntsville, Alabama.
    The chance to play against BigTen schools wouldn't draw recruits?

    I hope the hockey world wakes up soon and gets over the stigma that the south is not a good place for hockey. In the 30 years UAH hockey has been around, all but one SEC school has added a hockey team, the NHL has moved to Nashville, Atlanta, Florida (twice), and North Carolina, and the SPHL (home of Huntsville's minor league team) has added three teams for it's 2009-2010 season.

    As far as what UAH brings to the CCHA? To start, how about exclusive exposure as the only conference in the region?

  15. I can only see this as a bad thing because it stops the marketing of the product, which is HOCKEY.

    UAH is a great team. People talk about the Doug Ross as if he left the team 10 years ago. Every team has a few bad years after a transition, and UAH has played some excellent hockey. So what is it they lack on bringing to the table. They market the game down south, get young people into it in the fastest growing part of the country (the South East) according to many population studies.

    What we have here is a “watering down” of the sport by contracting back to it's “safe zone,” where it's popular. Well hockey teams up here are a dime a dozen. We need to be growing the sport, not contracting it.

    This kind of attitude will only bring about the demise of Hockey as a major sport in the US. In Europe its all but dead. Pretty soon MLS will eclipse Hockey, personally I prefer a good ol game of European Football any day over the state of Hockey the last 10 years.

    I wouldn't be surprised considering the last 10 years of NHL history, if the league doesn't fold within 25 years, and it will be because we stood by and retreated from a town that while in the “deep south” could teach a thing or two about passion for hockey. And maybe the first step is realizing retreat to the “deep north” is the wrong thing to do in the long run.

  16. Darren, thanks for speaking up with such a well spoken opinion. For the naysayers, I don't see how you can say UAH has little to offer after so much noise has already been made by its fans. How many schools have this enthusiastic a fan base?

    In the beginning, there were no hockey hotbeds. Sports, like anything, gain interest by expanding into new places. Hockey has become important in Huntsville because of the Chargers and it will probably only gain a greater following with time.

    Has anyone ever told you that you had “little to offer”? Don't act bewildered over why our blood is boiling right now.

  17. Charles, I can't say I agree that hockey is “all but dead” in Europe. A solid percentage of NHL draft picks and collegiate stars are all coming from Europe.

    7 Swedish players were taken in the 1st round of the 2009 NHL Draft, 24 in total from that country alone.

    Most of the hotshot NHL goalies you see today are coming from the Finnish goaltending school; players like Tuuka Rask, Kari Lehtonen, Antero Niitymaki, Niklas Backstrom, etc.

    A few other notable young Europeans making a significant NHL impact:
    Patrick Berglund (St. Louis)
    Nicklas Backstrom (Washington)
    Fabiann Brunstrom (Dallas)
    Tobias Enstrom (Atlanta)
    Niklas Kronwall (Detroit)
    Henrik Lundqvist (Rangers)
    Henrik and Daniel Sedin (Vancouver)
    Henrik Zetterberg (Detroit)
    Jonas Hiler (Anaheim)
    Yannick Weber (Montreal)
    Thomas Vanek (Buffalo)
    Tomas Fleischmann (Washington)
    Michael Frolik (Florida)
    Ales Hemsky (Edmonton)…and more

    I say that recruiting in Europe is alive and well!

  18. I'm sorry but just because they made the NCAA tournament in 07 on an auto-bid when they were a sub .500 team and made a good run at a sleeping ND team, then followed that up by two horrendous seasons does not prove that the talent is there.

  19. Recruiting. Looks like maybe the south does have something to offer.

    From the 2008 Wisconsin roster:

    6 Bardis, Tom, F, Jr 5-9 186 11/11/86 Alpharetta, Ga. St. Lawrence University
    14 Grotting, Ben, F, Jr 6-1 190 4/20/86 Birmingham, Ala. Lincoln Stars

    Let's get real. Independent teams don't have a prayer in this day and age. It was bad enough having to play in the CHA. Not even having the likes of Robert Morris and Bemidji State to bolster the schedule UAH hasn't got a prayer of surviving. College hockey has a responsibility to support this program if by no other means that committing to travel to Huntsville to play.

  20. Steve, you should look at my above debate one more time. UAH has been consistent and competitive for 25 YEARS. Yes the past two years were bad records however what about the 23 years before that. I am sure every team in the CCHA has had a few sub par seasons in their history. I have played in two National Championships. To argue Notre Dame was sleeping is ridiculous. In the Frozen Four tournament, you get one shot. Teams simply DO NOT take other teams for granted.

  21. Steve, trust me, Darren knows hockey at all levels, and he knows if Huntsville can compete with the CCHA. I think the thing that's frustrating to fans here is that they haven't gotten a shot to play with the big boys. In the waning days of D2 Huntsville and Mankato were huge rivals. Mankato has gotten their shot to play with the big boys. Not Bemidji has gotten theirs. Huntsville competed with this programs and has as much to offer as either of them do. Frankly, if Huntsville had the benefit of playing 4 or 5 name programs on their schedule that the average fan on the street who's not a season ticket holder recognized they would average another 1000 fans per game. The CHA was a crutch that helped UAH transition, but no one ever thought playing teams who only the most fanatical followers knew was going to sustain this program. 25 years ago UAH could play as an independent. With D2 UAH dominated – one of only 2 or 3 programs who regularly competed for the championship. It seems that they'll either find a home in the CCHA or WCHA and compete, or they'll fold. The ECAC and HE are not viable options.

    UAH can compete if given a chance. Maybe that's the real problem.

  22. Darren, I direct you to the ND-Bemidji game. I also direct you to a hundred other NCAA tournament upsets in tournaments in hockey and basketball where the “favorite” fell asleep and took the other team for granted and lost. UConn-George Mason, Holy Cross-Minnesota. The big boys ABSOLUTELY took the underdogs for granted. Sure, UAH has been competitive in low-level D1 leagues and D2 leagues for 25 years, but they have not been competitive in big-time D1 games outside of the ND game, and a couple of ECAC wins – not really enough to warrant the CCHA to say “Oh, yeah they'd definitely be a competitive CCHA team and would be in the hunt for a home ice playoff spot.” I agree a similar argument can be made about a couple of current CCHA teams such as Ferris and Western.

    You all seem to be missing my point – I want you to stay a member of D1, and think it would've eventually been a good idea for the CCHA to accept you. All I'm doing is pointing out the realities of the situation, and on some levels it seems like UAH fans are not accepting them. UAH is not an ideal candidate for the CCHA (then again, neither is Bemidji for the WCHA really) and nearly all evidence suggests it would only add another bottom-tier team to the conference while being a somewhat long trip, though no greater than UNO. I think the best thing that could happen to UAH right now would be to work out a scheduling agreement for the interim with the CCHA since they'll have an odd team out each week during the Jan-Feb conference season who will have trouble finding teams around the country not named UAH available to play. If you can work this out then going as an independent seems like a possibility – if you can subsequently beat some of those CCHA teams then at that point you'd be making a heck of a case for admission.

  23. Steve, I'm trying to think of the ideal CCHA addition. Is there another Michigan or Ohio powerhouse team who is currently able to join?

  24. Rich – who's saying there HAS to be a CCHA addition? With the murky future of some of their programs, they could potentially fall below 11. I'm not saying I agree with that as a reason to deny UAH, but that's the facts.

  25. Mike every heard the saying a broken clock is right twice a day? Also, if you listen to the other CCHA coaches it appears that this isn't over the decision is not final. This is just one step in getting UAH into a conference. It would not be good for college hockey to let UAH wither and die on the vine.

    This is to the people that say that UAH adds nothing to the CCHA, I want to know what WMU, LSSU, BGSU, Ferris State add to the CCHA? Watering down of the strenght of schedule. I think UAH is just as good and not better than those programs. If I am not mistaken UAH has more NCAA titles than WMU, and Ferris State.

  26. I think you've hit on a great idea there Steve. If only some of the smaller guys were willing to give up their CCHA membership and join a new conference…

    I assume you chose Ferris and Western as any two of the smaller schools in the conference, but since Western is playing UAH in Huntsville this season, I'm sure you'd agree as you already said earlier that winning could earn the Chargers a lot of respect.

  27. Really Steve, what are you basing this on? CHA is better than you give them credit for. WMU, BGSU and Ferris would be hard pressed to beat BSU and NU. Remember BSU whooped Notred Dames ass in the NCAA tourney and took it to Cornell.

  28. Да уж… Тут как люди раньше говорили: Алмаз алмазом гранится, плут плутом губится 🙂

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