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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Inexcusable: CCHA Votes Down Alabama-Huntsville

Today saw news that should make college hockey fans across America and parts elsewhere really upset:

CCHA Denies Alabama-Huntsville for Conference Admission

The CCHA has denied Alabama-Huntsville’s application for admission, putting the program’s future in even more jeopardy.

The Chargers are members of the CHA, which is set to disband after the 2009-10 season. The three other members have found other conferences, and UAH targeted the CCHA.

But the CCHA Council, a body made up of athletic administrators and faculty athletic representatives, on Tuesday voted by acclamation to deny UAH’s application for membership.

Well isn't that nice.

The CHA is disbanding because the other three members of the conference have found more convenient homes for the 2010-2011 season. Bemidji State, an enjoyed program of this blog, is moving to the WCHA with soon-to-be former CCHA patron Nebraska-Omaha. Robert Morris University and Niagara University of the lame-duck CHA will move along to the alive-yet-weak Atlantic Hockey Association.

This situation left Alabama-Huntsville on the outside looking in. Given that they're the only college hockey program located in the deep south, their program is one that has always raised eyebrows with casual observers of college hockey.

Hell, even long time college fans weren't always aware of the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers - that is until 2007 when the bottom-seeded Chargers took top seeded Notre Dame to double-overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before ultimately falling to the Fighting Irish 3-2 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Coincidentally enough, it was the same Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids that saw soon-to-be former CHA mates Bemidji State upset Notre Dame and Cornell just this past year in the NCAA Tournament earning them their first Frozen Four appearance as well as the acceptance of the WCHA to join their "exclusive" club of teams.

Fate is one cruel bitch.

"Et tu... All of you?!"

What's fun about this announcement is that the CCHA decided to vote by acclimation so that no one school has to take the heat from the rest of the college hockey loving world for basically sending Alabama-Huntsville's hockey program out to pasture.

Yes, that's right, their hockey program is in a very bad spot right now. Other conferences that could have had UAH join up with them have already filled their ranks. That's not to say that the WCHA was even a possible destination for the Chargers, but at least they were one of the conferences looking to expand.

Atlantic Hockey and the CCHA were it as far as geographic common sense and flexibility go. Atlantic Hockey made their move by bringing aboard the two logical CHA squads in Robert Morris (Pittsburgh, PA) and Niagara (near Buffalo, NY). Both the ECAC and Hockey East are much too far out of the way in the northeast and are set with their number of teams.

UAH is now looking at life, once again, as an independent team. They spent their first year back in Division I hockey as an independent in 1998-1999 but then joined the CHA after that. Previous to that, they were a Division II team for six seasons and a damn good one winning two Division II championships, thus making their jump back to Division I (after spending five years there from 1987-1992 as independents) one that made a world of sense.

Now? Limbo awaits the Chargers. Life as an independent team in Division I hockey is one that doesn't lend itself well to any kind of success, be it on the ice or financially. Having no conference affiliation means there's no conference tournament to play in and win a berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Having life as an independent should, ideally, mean that scheduling gets to be easier as you can pick and choose from any of the other 58 D-I schools. Problem with that is, everyone else is playing in a conference and subject to their own conference schedule dominating their weekly lives and having to live by the scraps of open dates the schedule allows to make games with other schools.

D-I football is perhaps the best high profile way we can look at how UAH may have to handle their new lives, should they choose to keep it up. In the past, there had always been a rather large handful of teams amongst the Independent ranks in college football.

Now there are three: Notre Dame, Army and Navy. What these three teams have in common is playing against each other as well as a hearty mix of cream puffs and menacing world beaters. Hell, even Army football gets a game against VMI each year so they're guaranteed to not go winless.

Obviously Notre Dame sticks out here as the "shining example" of how to be a successful independent program. Then again, Notre Dame football is a beast unto itself having NBC carrying all their home games and a ridiculous legacy that is eternally fellated whether the team is any good or not.

Alabama-Huntsville hockey won't exactly have any of these luxuries. There is no lucrative television contract to give the school money nor are there well-placed media pundits out there to proclaim the wonder and glory of Chargers hockey. It's just how it is but the future is certainly very bleak for the sole Division I hockey program in the deep south.

For what it's worth, the 2012 Frozen Four being held in Tampa, Florida is set to be hosted by none other than the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Given that this location has already been beset by bad press, most of which centered around the owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning bailing out of a college hockey tournament set to be hosted in Tampa last year, Alabama-Huntsville having their program potentially folding before the Frozen Four even arrives in Florida would be a tremendous black eye on college hockey.

For now though, UAH hangs on while the CCHA will have to take their much-deserved lumps for leaving a program out in the cold with little to no explanation:

“The league completed its due diligence of the application for membership submitted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville with careful consideration and discussion of various issues,” CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said in a news release. “At this time we have chosen to maintain our membership at its current level.

“The CCHA will remain focused on maintaining and strengthening our existing members to ensure the conference’s continued success and long-term viability.”

There's a lot of buzzwords in there but what this boils down to for the CCHA is that they're playing wait-and-see, which in this case, amounts to a game of chicken where they're not risking a damn thing for themselves.

At stake here instantly is the future of Alabama-Huntsville hockey but there are some other things that come into play here. Whether it's the imminent failure of another of its member teams in Bowling Green or the rise of a program out of the club ranks with a huge name to lend further credibility to both the CCHA and college hockey will remain to be seen.

If the CCHA has the ability to see the future and those situations do arise, I am sure they can also handle the responsibility of having the blood of potentially two (or maybe more) programs on their hands while allowing college hockey to become an even less-relevant niche sport on the collegiate landscape.

A year from now we could be just laughing at all of this as an incredible overreaction when the CCHA votes to allow UAH to join up with them after Bowling Green and other struggling CCHA members all find ways to prove their commitments to college hockey for the future and its all fun and games.

Then again, a year from now we could be looking at this vote to exclude UAH from the CCHAs reindeer games as the first domino to fall in what could prove to be a herd-thinning situation in college hockey.


Brandon said...

Joe, I hope no teams in the CCHA ever win a national championship ever again. In fact, I hope all their fans die.

Hockey Joe said...

That WCHA-CCHA hate runs deep doesn't it?

Mike said...

Muck Fichigan.

Kat said...

I can't believe this. They have no respect for a team who has worked their way up from nothing in an area of the world where they had to strive for excellence. They're scared of a team that could show them up.

Nicely written, btw.

CCHA Members Only Club said...

Anastos is a clown leading the CCHA. He's such a snob he may have engineered the death of 2 programs. First the snub of Wayne State was the kiss of death, now they spurn UAH. What a joke! Wake up and smell the roses outside of Farmington Hills Mr. Porn Stache!

MotleySu said...

I saw a link to this blog in Bud McLaughlin's article in the Hunstville Times online. Thank you for writing such a well-thought out piece. I am so upset right now I can hardly string two sentences together.
UAH fostered my love of hockey when I was a student there in the 90's. I'd hate to see it go away.

Lindsey said...

All Fans, Brandon? I'm a CCHA fan, and this ticks me off. If the CCHA had released more information as to why they said no, I wouldn't feel as bad as I do.

It's a shameful day to be a CCHA fan. I wish my school had been smart enough to jump on the WCHA train when it stopped in town last spring.

Anonymous said...

How did the CCHA cause Wayne State to fold? Did they honestly want to create a 13 team league? Thats proposterous that you would even suggest that. If anything the blame doesn't fall fully on the CCHA, but also the likes of the WCHA for poaching a program, and Air Force who started this whole mess.

Michael said...

When you look at the all the blogs on UAH, and you see how the CCHA's reasons for rejecting UAH's admission have been systematically ripped to shreds, it's a bit absurd.

Travel issues? UNO is no farther than UAH. Want to take a bus? It's a shorter drive than UNO for most CCHA schools. Want to fly? Get yourself to Detroit, Chicago, or Cincinnati and hop on a direct flight to Huntsville.

Financial issues? Not likely when UAH agreed to give every visiting CCHA school an estimated $10K travel subsidy.

Arena issues? The CCHA was told by the staff of the 7000-seat Von Braun Center that UAH would receive the highest priority.

Attendance issues? Even with a 6-win and 5-win season the past two years, it was higher than 5 current CCHA squads, and would be higher with a regular conference schedule and high-profile teams.

Recruiting issues? Mere conference affiliation would boost UAH's profile to the point where it could compete. But there is a special recruiting angle when you tell recruits that they can go play a hockey game and then enjoy the sunshine and warm weather 11 months a year.

Competitive issues? UAH has never had a problem playing against CCHA squads over the years, collecting wins over BGU, Miami, the directional Michigan schools, Ohio State, and others. Sure, they didn't win them all, but they sure didn't play poorly.

Apparently all those things and more, but the real kicker is that the CCHA questioned UAH's "commitment" to college hockey. Right. Because UAH didn't make every effort... why didn't they just go ahead and spit on them while they're at it?

Ultimately, the CCHA has made its decision whether we agree with it or not. Personally, I don't.

What remains to be seen is if there is any desire by the other NCAA schools to ensure that UAH hockey remains a viable entity as an independent, which is what it would be facing next year. Because in all likelihood, it would appear unlikely that the CCHA would suddenly reverse course, a year later, and grant UAH immediate entry into the conference. A year may bring BGU into greater financial clarity, but it certainly doesn't change any of the CCHA's "problems" with UAH.

So, really, this issue no longer hangs on the heads of the CCHA schools, even if the pricks could have resolved this situation very easily. Now, it's on the heads of all NCAA hockey schools that decide against scheduling UAH as an independent.

Encourage your schools to schedule UAH as an opponent, whoever you are. Call the CCHA Commissioner and ask the conference to reconsider. Donate to the UAH Blue Line Club. Join the Save UAH hockey facebook group.

Give the school a fighting chance to survive.

Hockey Joe said...

Great to hear from so many of you about this subject.

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