One week after the CCHA rejected Alabama-Huntsville’s application for membership, one thing is still clear: There is much more to this situation than has been made public.
Said CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos, “There are a lot of moving parts.”
The vote on Huntsville’s application was somewhat surprising, both in its timing and its format. The league hadn’t indicated that it would vote on Huntsville this month, and the acclimation vote — one by which no roll is taken — leaves each member’s vote anonymous and leaves many people speculating about the CCHA’s reasons for its actions.
In the league’s press release about the vote, Anastos said, “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.”
Later in the week, Anastos elaborated on his comments. The timing of the vote, he said, shows that member schools “chose to make a decision” when they met last week.
“No one knew how the discussion was going to come out,” said Anastos. “We don’t really schedule votes. I wanted to make sure that we had an open discussion and dialogue in front of everybody.
“Right now, we don’t have a schedule for 2010. We had Bowling Green’s situation with no conclusion yet. I told everybody that we may vote … but at the same time a lot’s happened since April.”
— CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos
April was when UAH made its original pitch to the CCHA Council. Since then, speculation about the future of Bowling Green’s program has intensified, with the departures of head coach Scott Paluch and ice arena director Buddy Powers in addition to the school’s commitment of $4 million for maintenance of the arena. Also, Nebraska-Omaha has opted to leave the CCHA in favor of the WCHA beginning with the 2010 season.
“I wanted everyone, including Huntsville, to know that there was a chance that we’d come out with a vote [in August] because the landscape wasn’t shaped,” Anastos said.
Even though the league has voted against admitting the program for the immediate future, Anastos, who does not vote on the Council, said that last week’s vote wasn’t the final word. “Why would you ever close the door?” he said. “I wouldn’t understand that.”
One day after the vote, Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque told WKNW-AM radio in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., that he thinks UAH needs to be patient and that the league’s decision was one of a matter of timing. “Alabama did a good job,” Roque said. “I think they made a good presentation.”
Roque pointed to both the situation with Bowling Green and “pressure by the Big Ten Conference” to have Big Ten member teams from the CCHA and WCHA face off more during the season. “If anything, I think our league schedule is going to change here in the next year or two as far as a few less league games to allow those schools to play each other more,” Roque said.
He added, “Eventually, I do see them getting in. I think Alabama will become our 12th member.”
Roque and other CCHA coaches don’t vote in the Council, even though they can influence their schools’ votes. Those representatives of the schools from athletic departments who do vote are unwilling to reveal the specifics of what was discussed in last week’s meeting, but Notre Dame associate athletic director Tom Nevala said that there are two things that people need to keep in mind.
“First, there are larger issues out there that college hockey needs to address and some of them are truly economic,” Nevala said. “A lot of people think that economics is only ticket revenue and travel costs, but it’s not.
“Secondly, I would describe this as internal to college hockey.”
In other words, there’s more going on here than one vote about admitting one team to one league, but no one wants to say.
“Given today’s circumstances and where we are,” Anastos said, “people don’t have the opportunity to look at this from member schools’ perspectives. People look at it from the perspective of the program trying to get admitted.”
That there may be bigger issues at work beyond Alabama-Huntsville’s control is no comfort to the Chargers, who remain the only CHA team without a conference home after that league folds at the end of the 2009-10 season.
“We have to do something quickly,” said UAH athletic director Jim Harris, who is concerned about the viability of the program beyond this season.
UAH offered the CCHA a package to cover the cost of travel for other teams in the league, a lump sum that would be paid to the league by July 1 of every year, to be distributed to league members as the CCHA saw fit.
And after the CCHA expressed some scheduling concerns about the Chargers sharing the multipurpose Von Braun Center with the Huntsville Havoc (SPHL), the Von Braun Center “bent over backwards” to accommodate a more favorable CCHA schedule, said Harris — a moot point down the road anyway, since the university plans to build a convocation center within the next five years that will house a 4,000-seat ice arena.
Even though the 2010 CCHA schedule hasn’t been solidified, UAH offered to “plug in” where UNO was going to play, said Harris, in an attempt to create a seamless transition.
UAH has worked in recent years to reach out to southern areas where there is interest in hockey, particularly throughout Georgia and in Tampa, and in all the Southeastern Conference markets, as all SEC teams but one have club hockey teams.
On the strength of its proposal and willingness to accommodate the CCHA, the Chargers thought they were a shoo-in for league membership. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Harris said.
In spite of an application that CCHA members agree was strong and their 20-year hockey history, the Chargers may be out in the cold for nothing they themselves have or have not done.
“Frankly, there are many items and decisions made far beyond just the applicant,” Anastos said. “There are a lot of issues that go into a decision on this.”
Anastos knows that the decision paints the league in a negative light, but that the image is unearned. “I don’t know how people can say that the CCHA hasn’t been hospitable, hasn’t reached out,” he said.
“As I can tell you, there’s not a person in the CCHA or its member schools who’s not aware that UAH may fold, who’s not conscious of what may happen. None of us wants that.”