Alabama-Huntsville’s long drive for conference affiliation ended Thursday when the WCHA voted unanimously to admit the Chargers to the league, with the move coming at least in part next season.
The Chargers have been an independent since College Hockey America folded after the 2009-10 season, and it appeared at one point that the 2011-12 season would be their last. A grass-roots effort helped restore the team’s varsity status while it pursued a new conference.
Now that it also has that in place, it’s thinking big.
“While we realize it’s going to be very difficult and very challenging, we want to win the WCHA,” athletic director E.J. Brophy said Thursday night. “We want to go to the NCAA tournament. We want to go deep into the NCAA tournament. I don’t really believe in five-year plans or three-year plans. I believe in winning now.”
The WCHA will make a “good faith effort” to make the Chargers full members with a 28-game league schedule next season, commissioner Bruce McLeod said. But he estimated that league schedules were 95 percent done for 2013-14, making it a difficult proposition to work things out.
If a full schedule isn’t possible, the WCHA can offer UAH some games against league teams next season and the 10th spot in the playoffs, much as it did for Minnesota State before it gained full league membership in 1999.
The WCHA and Alabama-Huntsville also still have to finalize details for travel subsidies that the Chargers will pay to league teams visiting Huntsville. Alaska-Anchorage has had a similar arrangement since joining the league in 1993 and Alaska will as well when it becomes a member next season.
“We were asked to provide a subsidy to schools,” Brophy said. “We felt that was very fair.”
The WCHA is losing Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Big Ten and six others to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference next season. It is picking up five members from the dissolving CCHA and will be a 10-team league with the addition of Alabama-Huntsville.
An Alabama-Huntsville group made a presentation to the WCHA at league meetings Thursday morning connected to the NCAA Convention near Dallas. Presidents from league schools asked the UAH representatives — Brophy, president Robert Altenkirch and faculty athletic representative Brent Wren — to return in the afternoon, when they made a formal invitation. UAH accepted on the spot.
“It’s just a really big day for everybody that is involved now or has ever been involved with our hockey program,” Brophy said. “For us to be admitted into the WCHA is just a real windfall for us.”