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Future bright for CCHA

But tinkering can only weaken it

April 3, 2011
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor , The Mining Journal

Now is not the time for the CCHA to panic.

Interim commissioner Fred Pletsch and the eight schools that will remain after the 2012-13 season should not make any rash decisions.

A scheduling agreement with the Big Ten and WCHA would be nice. A commitment from all eight schools to the CCHA would be even better. The last thing the league should do, however, is look at expanding by poaching teams from other leagues.

Eight is the perfect number for the CCHA moving forward.

The number leaves the league with plenty of scheduling options that allow the CCHA to play a balanced schedule of 28 games or an unbalanced schedule of 20 games.

In a 28-game league slate, each team would play each other four times - two home and two away. Because every team would make the trip to Fairbanks, Alaska, once a year, each school would receive an NCAA exemption and be able to play eight non-league games.

The postseason tournament would be seeded with no byes. The first round would be best-of-three series at campus sites, with the semifinals and finals at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit or possibly Grand Rapids.

A balanced schedule leads to a fair regular season champion and takes the burden off of smaller, isolated schools that struggle to find non-conference foes.

However, eight non-conference games is not what schools like Miami and Notre Dame want to hear. The RedHawks and Irish want the flexibility to play the Big Ten schools and to accommodate the league's future flagships, an unbalanced 20-game schedule would be best to keep them happy and in the league.

In a 20-game CCHA slate, the league would be divided into two divisions. Each school would play four games against its three division rivals - two home and two away.

Schools would then play two games against their non-division rivals (a total of four home and four away), rotating between home and away every other year.

Depending on who travels to Alaska, schools would have 14-16 non-conference games to schedule against the Big Ten and WCHA. In NMU's case, it leaves plenty of room to play Michigan Tech four times a year again, if the university chooses to.

The CCHA postseason tournament would be a crossover with the division winners hosting the last-place teams in each division in a best-of-three, on- campus, first-round series.

If the top seeds won out, the semifinals would feature the division champions against the second-place team from the opposite division.

How the divisions would be divided is up for debate. The league could go with a regional plan featuring NMU, Western Michigan, Lake Superior State and Ferris State in the Michigan Division while Miami, Notre Dame, Bowling Green and Alaska make up the American Division.

The other option is to go the Big Ten route of trying to create balanced divisions. By placing two Division I schools and two Division II schools in each division, you would have NMU, LSSU, Notre Dame and Western in the Black Division and Alaska, Ferris State, BGSU and Miami in the Blue Division - please no Leaders and Legends.

The regional plan caters best to Miami and Notre Dame, who would not only be able to play each other four times, but both would get 16 non-league games to schedule against high-profile opponents.

Each plan leaves the league with plenty of intrigue, especially a two-division, 20-game format. The key, however, is for the league to remain at eight teams. Once the CCHA returns to 10 or 12 teams, flexibility in scheduling evaporates.

Eight teams does leave the CCHA vulnerable should anyone bolt for another conference or fold due to bankruptcy.

If the league is really concerned about contraction, it should go out and woo college hockey's two Division I military academies - Air Force and Army. They are well-known and high profile teams, though I'm not sure the small, cash-strapped CCHA schools would welcome plane flights to New York and Colorado Springs.

Whatever the league does, the worst possible move would be to water down the league further with Robert Morris, Niagara, Mercyhurst or Alabama-Hunstville. All that would do is further entice Miami, Notre Dame and Western to bolt the CCHA.

If the league feels the need to extend invitations to any warm body school in college hockey, I'd advise NMU to look elsewhere, as well. If fans aren't showing up to see Bowling Green, what makes anyone think the Berry Events Center will fill up for Robert Morris?

Remaining an eight-team league may be playing with fire, but watering down what is still a strong league guarantees the CCHA will be nothing better than Atlantic Hockey, or worse, the league could join College Hockey America in oblivion.

Unless a lone Pac-10, Big 12, SEC or Big East school finds some deep pockets like Penn State, there is no way to replace Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. So why try and fake it with pushovers?

Please Fred Pletsch, keep the CCHA at eight. You'll be doing all of college hockey a favor.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is



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