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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Big Ten College Hockey Conference

Earlier this week it was announced that Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State would be defecting from the CCHA beginning in the 2013-14 season. There is mass speculation circling the college hockey world on what the impact of this move will be. Rumors are that the CCHA and WCHA may merge to form a 18 team conference, the Big Ten teams will continue to play a nonconference schedule against instate teams from the CCHA, and even speculation that the formation of the Big Ten Conference will cause several of the CCHA teams to fold.

My take on the Big Ten adding hockey is that it is completely driven by money and the Big Ten Network. This will add several games each season to the Big Ten Networks scheduling, and increase television revenue for the schools. There are really no negatives for the Big Ten schools when it comes to adding hockey to their league. Some have even argued that the level of play in the Big Ten will increase as players choose schools with television contracts for the desire to increase their personal exposure.

The Big Ten schools leaving the CCHA will have a negative impact on its member schools, but probably not as big as initially expected. I do not expect the quality of play to drop in the CCHA, college hockey in general is going to get better with the proliferation of junior leagues throughout the United States. Michigan and Michigan State travel well and increase the attendance at the Taffy Abel Arena when they come to the Soo, so their leaving the CCHA will have an economic impact on the Lakers. Games against Michigan and Michigan State bring in 500+ more people to each game which translates to $5000 +/- each game, a nice sum but not enough to make or break any team in the CCHA. The Big Ten schools have said that they will continue to play nonconference games against the CCHA teams, but I would expect that they will want games on their home ice, as they have shown in the scheduling of MAC teams in football. Maybe LSSU will host MSU or UM once every other year, but I suspect that knowing that Michigan or Michigan State will be in town every season is a thing of the past.

I suspect that losing Michigan and Michigan State will also have a negative impact on the CCHA’s contract with Fox Sports Network Detroit. FSN may drop the CCHA all together or may just choose to cover playoff games. Also will Michigan leaving prompt the CCHA to move the championship from Detroit to Grand Rapids? Where will the Big Ten hold their championship?

My take is that the WCHA and the CCHA are not going to merge. Any league that has a minimum of 6 teams gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. If they merge, they would be one league and would only get one automatic bid, which alone is reason enough for me to be suspect of any rumors of a merger into a super conference, let alone looking at the increased travel costs for a conference with this large of a footprint.

Lastly the Big Ten formation really clears up why the CCHA rejected The University of Alabama, Huntsville as a member; the league saw the Big Ten coming and would rather play a few years with 11 teams than be saddled with 9 teams for the long haul. Having an even number of teams makes life really easy when it comes to scheduling and having a tournament.

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