Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tsunami Watch: Night of the Living CCHA

It's alive!

Well, not quite yet. But it does sound like reports of the CCHA's demise may have been exaggerated.

Last week, we mentioned that Bowling Green appeared to be out of options when it came to their final destination, with a rapidly expiring WCHA offer sitting on the table and not much else.

Now, via the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune, comes news that instead of trudging off to the WCHA, the Falcons may instead channel their inner North Dakota, and take the lead on the formation of a new league... or at the very least, rebuild the CCHA around themselves.

In yesterday's paper, the Sentinel-Tribune stated that Bowling Green was in talks with those dissatisfied Atlantic Hockey programs we've already mentioned - Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, and Robert Morris - on joining together. Those schools had previously been in discussions with the CCHA as a whole before the majority of the remaining members bolted for the WCHA (and WMU for the NCHC). But that only makes for five programs - one less than needed for an automatic bid.

Enter Bucky Gleason's dream team.

You may remember our artful dismantling of The Buffalo News reporter Bucky Gleason in May 2010 following an over-exuberant reworking of college hockey in his apparently uneducated image. We stand by every word of that today, but you'll note that we never pooh-poohed the idea of the University of Buffalo one day having a team, just that it wouldn't necessarily be as easy as Gleason made it sound - not to mention, coming equipped with a silly arrangement by which Clarkson and St. Lawrence would, for some reason, join up with the Bulls.

At any rate, it does sound like UB is at the very least interested enough to be a party to discussions with Bowling Green and the AHA insurrectionists. However, the university told WGRZ-TV that "there are several things that would need to occur both fiscally and within conference alignments for this to work for UB at this time."

Additionally, when it comes to small conferences, this new Zombie CCHA wouldn't necessarily be on the world's greatest footing. They'd probably want at least one, if not two more programs.

So where do we now stand with this news?

Bowling Green: To be quite frank, Bowling Green didn't seem like the type of program that would be taking a lead on forming what in essence would be a brand new league even if it may end up being a new-look CCHA - which is why we're calling it the "Zombie CCHA" for the time being. Sure they've got a national title in their history, but the program has been in rough shape for some time, to include a period of time a few years back in which the program seemed to be in danger of folding (which serendipitously led to Nick Bailen's arrival in Troy). Together with ongoing renovations to BGSU Ice Arena, this may be part of a WMU-like rebound for the program. At any rate, the Falcons have until Oct. 7 to let the WCHA what they want to do for the 2013-14 campaign, so we'll probably know more soon about whether this Zombie CCHA is a real thing.

Canisius: Noteworthy in the Sentinel-Tribune story is the little tidbit - alluded to in Gleason's comedy bit - that Canisius may be working out a deal with none other than Terry Pegula, the man who donated the seed money to get Penn State's program off the ground. Pegula, who also owns the Buffalo Sabres, would apparently be seeking to use to use the facility as a practice rink for the Sabres as well, which would only mean good things for the Griffins and their program, especially if they can be part of a conference like the CCHA that will allow them to offer a full slate of scholarships. This could be a program on the rise.

Mercyhurst, Niagara, and Robert Morris: Nothing really new to report here other than that the rest of the teams who had already been in contact with the CCHA are still apparently looking to leave Atlantic Hockey if they can.

Buffalo: Something about UB's statement has me a little skeptical that they're actually going to pull this off, especially since BGSU has a timetable of their own that they need to adhere to that expires in a couple of weeks. Still, if the money is there - reputed to be coming via Buffalo billionaire Jeremy Jacobs, owner of the Boston Bruins, who's been generous to the school before - this is certainly something that is possible. About the only thing Gleason had going for him in that article was that he was right about the potential for college hockey growth in the Buffalo area, and if the Bulls can anchor the Zombie CCHA along with Niagara and Canisius, it would even have its own hub city. UB is trying to significantly transform itself into the undisputed top school in the SUNY system - a move like this wouldn't hurt that at all.

RIT: Notably, the other school that yearns for more than Atlantic Hockey still isn't a part of the discussion. This could well be a matter of the Tigers waiting to see if something becomes available in the ECAC, as it has been mentioned that RIT would love to earn a place in with the Ivies and some of their peer schools. That doesn't look likely unless a current team leaves, which, as we've said, is only probably going to happen if Notre Dame goes to Hockey East. RIT's probably waiting for the dominoes to fall. A Notre Dame move to the NCHC could trigger some interest in the Zombie CCHA, if it exists by then, from the Tigers.

Air Force: It hasn't been reasonably confirmed that the Falcons are eager to leave Atlantic Hockey yet (there have only been a few Twitter rumors here or there), but in the same vein, they could be a candidate for a Zombie CCHA or even the WCHA, especially if BGSU ultimately turns down the WCHA's invite (leaving them with just eight teams). The Academy already bailed on the CHA when it appeared that conference was ready to go down the drain, if several teams leave Atlantic Hockey their survival instincts may just kick in once again.

Atlantic Hockey: That leads into the obvious next step... if these wheels eventually get set in motion, it could be relatively disastrous for the AHA moving forward - the only teams not presently linked to a potential move from the conference are American International, Army, Bentley, UConn, Holy Cross, and Sacred Heart. The league's already lacking in fire power, this league would not only be relegated to the bare minimum of six teams, it would be very dependent on the seeming "it's just there" nature of the AIC program (as we discussed in AIC's Know Your Enemy) for survival. Something to consider.

Alabama-Huntsville: These new developments have been nothing but positive for the Chargers, who now could find themselves with as many as three decent options for conference membership if all goes well. We talked about the WCHA as a potential landing spot, but the Zombie CCHA or a vastly depleted Atlantic Hockey would probably be even better candidates for the Chargers. Right now, of course, their biggest hurdle is a temporary president who seems ready to throw the team away before they get the opportunity to try for a permanent home.

Notre Dame: Completely unrelated to the Zombie CCHA is the seemingly never-ending question of where the Fighting Irish are going to land. The Eagle Tribune's Mike McMahon said yesterday that independence is pretty much now off the table and the NCHC or Hockey East choice is all that remains - and at the very least, Hockey East doesn't seem to think that the Irish are leaning as far toward the NCHC as they originally were.

Hockey East: Today was Hockey East Media Day, which was abuzz with the possibility of Notre Dame joining the conference. McMahon got a chance to speak to Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, indicating that the league would probably seek a 12th team if Notre Dame comes into the conference - and he also tweeted that the discussions at Media Day had RPI as the top potential choice with UConn as a longshot (there are Title IX issues at play in Storrs) and a little less discussion on Quinnipiac.

RPI: So... we wait. And if Notre Dame declares their undying love for Hockey East... hold onto your helmet.

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