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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cancelling Falcons Crest

I've been jumping back into my collegiate hockey roots here a bit because, frankly, this point of the NHL season bores me while also making me furious. I know that the playoff races are crazy and "anything can shake loose" and all that. I get it, that's great, that's fine. Whatever.

It bores me because you have mediocre teams stepping up their play when they've been sleepwalking all season long and you've got teams that have been legitimately great all year dogging it because they're equal parts injured or bored and have coasted along waiting for the playoffs to begin. It happens every season and it's frustrating to try and cover. I made my calls on who was missing the playoffs before the season was even starting and somehow it's looking like I'm going to be, at worst, 60% correct.

Suck on that Dwayne Klessel.

With that said, it's not all sunshine and rainbows in the college game. It's conference playoff time in Division I and NCAA Tournament time in Division III, and that's the greatest time of the year to be a college hockey fan - but there's dire talk coming out of Ohio.

College Hockey News broke a story discussing the financial muck and mire the Bowling Green University program is in:

Bowling Green school president Dr. Carol Cartwright was rumored to have made a recommendation that cutting hockey be one of the options. University trustee Michael Marsh denied that was the case, and said that decisions on alleviating a large budget shortfall would come from the athletic director Greg Christopher.

If you've been following college hockey for any amount of time, this story line isn't anything new. Last season, Wayne State University ended their program thanks to budget cutbacks in higher education in the state of Michigan. It's an all too familiar story and with college hockey not being one of the cheapest sports to maintain, especially if you don't own your own facility, it's one that hurts schools that haven't been successful at all.

That's not the case with Bowling Green.

Bowling Green University boasts a pretty impressive list of players who have come out of there. Take a look at the names on this list:

Rob Blake: Former L.A. King and current San Jose Sharks defenseman.

Ken Morrow
: Former Islanders defenseman and member of the 1980 "Miracle On Ice" Olympic gold medal winners in the Lake Placid games.

George McPhee
: A Hobey Baker Award winner and former NHL'er now currently the general manager of the Washington Capitals.

Dan Bylsma
: Former NHL journeyman and now head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kevin Bieksa
: Current Vancouver Canucks defenseman.

The list of other former players at BGSU includes 80s and 90s hockey "That Guys" like Garry Galley, Todd Rierden, Nelson Emerson, Brian Holzinger, Mike Liut, Paul Ysebaert, and Greg de Vries.

A couple of the other names familiar with Bowling Green hockey come from their 1984 National Championship team.

Oh, did I forget to mention that BGSU won a title? Yeah, these kinds of things can get forgotten about apparently.

A few of the players on that team have moved on to become great coaches in college hockey, among them RIT's Wayne Wilson, Ohio State's John Markell, Clarkson's George Roll and current Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch.

Roll in particular had a lot to say about this news with Bowling Green. More from the CHN story:

I don't know the specifics. I do know I have a lot of pride from that program, it was the best years or my life, and I hate to see the program being treated this way.

I don't think the program has been supported like it needs to, just from things I've heard. Being there this year (with Clarkson), the rink clearly needs work. There's a lot of talk amongst alumni in the last couple days. We're doing what we can.

This is what it boils down to for programs in positions like this: Donations from the alumni.

What's worse is that BGSU had planned to do improvements to the home rink but eventually cut the budget down for such things so much they bagged it entirely - money likely reallocated and spent on the football program and to make improvements to Doyt Perry Stadium - including the brand new Sebo Center which attaches to the stadium and is meant to be an all-purpose athletic facility.

What's sadder still is that it took donations from NHL players Rob Blake and Nelson Emerson to even get improvements to the team's locker room handled. Don't get me wrong here, money in college is always better spent on education but given how much students fork over to attend there, monies ponied up from state taxpayers or extremely wealthy donors that enjoy seeing their name carved in stone - it probably wouldn't hurt to see a few things kept up to code, at the least.

Shouldn't a former championship program deserve a better fate than this?

What happens next? Will a big donor or two come forth and help, and (pardon the phrasing it can't be helped here) bail out the program and get it set on the correct course? Will there be a farewell tour next season for the Falcons where they, essentially, play a lame duck season knowing full-well that they're done after the year (similar to what happened to Wayne State)?

It's tough to say, but if I'm going to lean any way on this: I have to think the axe is going to fall and Division I hockey gets a team lighter. Why? Simple. The president of Bowling Green State University has overseen this type of thing before.

Dr. Carol Cartwright is an esteemed woman in academia and someone who is highly regarded at being one of the best in the country at running a university. She's also the woman with the blood of the Kent State Golden Flashes hockey program on her hands.

In 1991, Cartwright was named president of Kent State and in 1994, the program called it quits. Cartwright was just named president of Bowling Green State in January and sees a failing and faltering program that is draining money and not making any of it back. Frankly, in her position you can see why she would make a recommendation to cut the program.

The Falcons suffer greatly in attendance, playing to a 40.9% (2,044 out of 5,000) full arena on average, a mark only better than a few schools: American International, Sacred Heart, Bentley, Alabama-Huntsville, and Ohio State.

The first three schools listed there play to less than an average of 500 fans per game in venues that hold less than 2,000 people. Compare that to Alabama-Huntsville who is in a similar situation to Bowling Green meanwhile Ohio State draws nearly 4,200 per game inside the cavernous Value City Arena at the Jerome Schottenstein Center on the OSU campus, a facility they share with the basketball team.

If folks aren't going to the games, you're not making ticket revenue, people aren't buying team gear - all of that. Then again, who wants to go to an arena that hasn't seen improvements made to it since the school last won a National Championship.

You get back what you put into things and in the case with the Bowling Green hockey program, it appears not much other than basic maintenance and budgeting has been put into it and it's shown in the standings. They haven't made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 1990, and they haven't been above .500 since the 1996-1997 season under coach Buddy Powers.

The school is then in the position of deciding whether or not to reward mediocrity and apparently opted not to while ignoring the fact that having sub-par facilities go a long way towards making a program more successful and bringing in better recruits and putting a winner on the ice that folks want to come watch.

In the financial "chicken or egg" way of thinking, the school administrators simply understand that neither the chicken nor the eggs are making any money and that's all that matters. If the eggs weren't rotten or the chickens were more palatable, then maybe BGSU doesn't have to worry.


The administrators don't have the time nor the patience to worry and they need financial results fast and a good way to score a few hundred thousand dollars is to cut off a program that's not getting it done.

At other schools where this has happened, a lack of success can be blamed but ultimately it's not athletics people are plunking their money down for at those schools (namely Fairfield and Iona College most recently). Sure, they've got football teams too but hockey doesn't carry the zest for any of the big money alums from places like that - there's no history for hockey and unless you're hamstrung by Title IX concerns and money worries, football will always stick around.

BGSU has history and a damn good one at that. This isn't going to be a quiet dismissal the way Fairfield, Iona, Wayne State, Findlay, Kent State and Illinois-Chicago were before.

This one will be loud and it will be felt across the hockey landscape and a lot of the blame can rest on the shoulders of the administration that turned their backs on it for so long.

Bowling Green has been given nothing and now there may be nothing to get back. Maybe this can all be averted but with an announcement like this sneaking out at the end of the season, I can't help but figure that bad news for hockey at Bowling Green is coming sooner than not.


Cassie said...

I feel your pain. If you need a little inspiration, go visit www.savewwufootball.com. My university cut the football team back in January without any warning or public hearings or announcements about it.

Andrew said...

I think Dave Ellett came out of Bowling Green as well. What a Leaf he was.

Anonymous said...

As BGSU '81 Alum who had season tickets all four years this is horrible news. Was at the final four in 1978 when we lost to Boston College in Providence, RI. We cheered Olympians Morrow and Mark Wells in 1980. I was in Lake Placid for the final four and can't remember ever seeing a better hockey game than the final. I just recently pulled out my SI which provided nothing more than a picture of the exhausted players at the end of the game and a reference to the BGSU win. There is too much history in the BGSU program to see it go like this. For those of us with so many fond memories of the hockey program perhaps we should redirect our annual donations direct to the hockey program. I'll keep watching for updates.

Anonymous said...

You know how I feel about Bowling Green. And my mood lately and general evil being that I am... I smiled a little as I read this.