Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hockey East Watch: November Update

There hasn't been an awful lot to report on the Hockey East front since the league has been focusing on, well, playing hockey, but there have at least been additional rumblings since the beginning of the season that are worth reflecting on.

We first touched on most of these schools during Tsunami Watch, here. We'll try not to rehash what we said back in September.

And, for what it's worth, we've endorsed the concept of RPI moving to Hockey East, which you can read here.

Here's the score.

RPI: The school still hasn't said publicly that it's interested in Hockey East, but it's generally known that the Engineers have at least been inquiring behind the scenes and that there have been discussions within the Hockey East ranks about RPI. There's really not much more to talk about on this level until something moves (as engineers, that probably calls for a healthy dose of WD-40), but it is important to note the early success this season of Merrimack, the #1 team in the country. They're proving, at least for the time being, that it is possible to be successful in Hockey East even from outside of the big guns.

UConn: From practically every perspective of what tends to be important in college sports, UConn is still the school that makes the most sense for Hockey East. Given the school's size and importance in the broader spectrum, as well as being the most marketable name of any of the contenders, UConn would be the best fit if only the practical concerns were not so heavily in the way. According to the Eagle Tribune's Mike McMahon, the school has at least let Atlantic Hockey know that it is exploring the option of a Hockey East move, which could potentially be the first signal that the school is looking to upgrade its program. If it does, there's not an awful lot of discussion to be had here - presuming the school builds a new facility and starts offering scholarships (with the required Title IX offsets elsewhere), UConn would be the 12th school. The question now as the school undoubtedly begins the process of deciding whether it is worthwhile for them to outlay all that money is whether it's something they want from an institutional perspective. You may have read in the news that UConn may be looking to bolt the Big East - hockey might not exactly be in the foreground.

Holy Cross: The big news on the Crusaders' front is that the city of Worcester is keen on Holy Cross moving into Hockey East from a economic standpoint - 11 games a year bringing fans from around New England into the city for hockey. The city council, led by a Holy Cross hockey alum who sits on the council, is pushing for the 12,239-seat DCU Center (formerly the Spectrum) to be a home venue for the Crusaders, though that can be lowered to 7,230 with the Times Union Center-like curtain system they have. For their part, the school has done the same as UConn, according to McMahon, in alerting Atlantic Hockey that they are exploring the Hockey East option. It's worth mentioning that on our podcast last week, RIT's Chris Lerch mentioned that RIT and Holy Cross are both looking to move their D-III women's programs into Division I in the near future, so that could indicate some budding interest in the sport at Holy Cross. Just 40 miles from Boston, the school probably fits better into the league's wheel well than any other possible candidate, but whether the Crusaders are a good fit for Hockey East from a competition standpoint remains to be seen.

Quinnipiac: Nothing new to report on Quinnipiac really, either, but the rise of interest out of UConn and Holy Cross combined with the positives that RPI has going for it as a potential target in the first place (not to mention the Tute's already existing buzz) tends to lead one to believe that the Bobcats might be falling back in the likelihood category. They've still got the shiny new arena as its best selling point.

Syracuse: The "new program" option that recurs most frequently is one of two schools that has D-I women's hockey but not men's hockey (the other being Lindenwood - the teams coincidentally meeting this coming weekend). The assumption is always made that Syracuse, as a big name school in football, basketball and lacrosse, has a giant athletic department. Nope. Seven men's sports (two being cross-country and track) and 11 women's sports (again, including XC and track). That's it. Why the low number? Because those big time sports eat up most of the budget. Why the disparity? Title IX. Syracuse had to cut men's and women's swimming and diving in order to start the women's hockey program and come into compliance with Title IX. Throw in a likely increased travel budget with the school moving to the ACC in the near future and there's really no room for men's hockey.

Cornell and Harvard: The rumors just won't die about either of these Ivy League schools, but it's worth saying again - there's nothing to them. At all. The Ivies play together in every sport they participate in, and they're not breaking apart here, either. As we've said before, there's a better chance that the Ivies leave the ECAC to maintain their own conference than any of them joining Hockey East on their own (and Hockey East isn't taking on six new teams). That's actually an increased argument for RPI leaving - it's a sword of Damocles that has hung over the ECAC for decades.

Nobody: The possibility that Hockey East could be content to sit at 11 teams indefinitely has also been advanced over the last couple of months. Commissioner Joe Bertagna has been adamant at press conferences that the league won't bring on just anyone for the sake of reaching 12 teams, even though it's obvious the league would function better with 12 than 11. Still, if there's any shot at bringing a revamped UConn program aboard, there's little doubt the league would be willing to wait a year, or even a few years, operating with 11 than bring RPI, Holy Cross, or someone else on board to suddenly have UConn have a change of heart. They probably won't take this route unless they think something is in the cards for the Huskies in the near future. Otherwise, they do have decent options.

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