First, everyone looked at each other and made sure what they thought they heard was true.
Steve Hagwell is being made ECAC commissioner? Haven’t we heard this before? Wasn’t he named associate commissioner in 2000 with the intention of giving him the authority to make the necessary decisions that commissioner Phil Buttafuoco, either because of neglect or lack of time, didn’t? And didn’t we already have to live through the realization that this amounted to nothing more than cosmetic change, with Hagwell being given zero authority as the neglect continued?
But this was different, we were told. In this case, the ECAC athletic directors finally were fed up. It might have taken a little while longer than we hoped, but they got together and decided enough was enough. They went to the ECAC Board of Directors and said, unless you give D-I hockey its complete independence, we are leaving the league. Goodbye.
So, you mean that Phil Buttafuoco has nothing to do with ECAC Hockey anymore? You mean Steve Hagwell has the same independent hockey-only authority that Joe Bertagna, Bruce McLeod, Tom Anastos, et al has? Are we hearing this correctly?
You mean what we’ve been practically begging ADs to do since 1997 has finally come to fruition — leaving the league? Well, yeah, sorta, except that there is still some relationship with the league, in its use of the name and the league office in Centerville, but even that can change in a heartbeat if need be. Centerville can cooperate with hockey or be gone entirely. Hockey is not beholden to Centerville.
So the joy spread across ECAC land, from coaches to fans, to anyone else who has ever remotely been connected or associated with this exalted conference. Kudos to all the athletic directors who studiously assessed the situation, came to a rational conclusion, got their ducks in a row, and charted a brave new course for the ECAC.
And then, just because we’re always a little careful, we sat back and let the cautious part of our cautious optimism have its time to speak. And then we came up with this list:
Top 10 Suggestions For the New and Improved ECAC
- 10. Merchandising. It’s time to take advantage of the Internet to market league merchandise and apparel. Something like what Hockey East does with its Hockey East Shop is an easy step with great rewards. And it should coincide with an increased merchandising presence in Albany. Apparel worn is free advertising.
- 9. “Acting” Commissioner. Let’s lose the “acting” designation from the front of Steve Hagwell’s title. We all know his term is for one year, and we know he’s under the microscope. Do we need to minimize his role? It sends an unnecessary message. Everyone doing their jobs is “acting” in their role. Unless there’s someone else already specifically waiting in the wings, remove “acting.”
- 8. Maximize your human resources. There are numerous talented people around who were either shunned by the previous admininstration, or removed themselves because they were sick of dealing with it, or both. These are people who have shown a willingness to help the league and are willing to do so largely out of the goodness of their own heart. People who believe in the league and its schools and its coaches and what it all stands for, and who want to help. People who just love the sport. At USCHO, we know a little bit about having to maximize human resources. Keep these people happy. Find for them something to do.
- 7. New Logo. Divorce the logo from the same style used by other sports in the ECAC. Back to the idea of maximizing resources, why not host a contest, asking art students at league member schools to submit their concepts for a new league logo? The winner gets some sort of prize, like lifelong season tickets at the arena of their choice.
- 6. Re-establish ties with Lake Placid. It’s unlikely the ECAC tournament is going back to Lake Placid any time soon — though the Albany deal is up next year, and you never know. But figure out a way to do something up there every year — maybe an ECAC Holiday Festival. There are good people up there who never wanted you to leave. The ECAC needs to emphasize the places where it is unique, and there is no more unique and special place in hockey than Lake Placid, and it falls in ECAC territory.
- 5. Re-establish ties with sponsors. Who knows how many corporate partners were turned off by the way the ECAC did business in recent years. Even corporations give second chances.
- 4. Web Site. This has been an issue in the past, and the ECAC made some improvements over the years in this regard. But the site still has plenty of room to get it to the kind of level it can be. Things like this are of vital importance when giving recruits first impressions about your league.
- 3. Don’t Expect Miracles. Everyone is pleased that the structural change in the ECAC has freed the league to be the best it can be. But Steve Hagwell will not be able to part the Charles River, or turn melted ice into wine. Let’s not expect him to. What we can expect, however, is an attentive leader who will organize his entire efforts towards helping the league in any way possible, and someone who, through the respect he has earned, will build relationships instead of tearing them down.
- 2. Officiating. Fans, coaches, everyone love to harp on officiating. It’s an easy target — one that can’t really fight back. Most of the criticism can be dismissed as partisanship, or heat-of-the-battle complaining. Which is not to say there isn’t always room for improvement. But in the ECAC, there probably needs to be something a little more deep and complicated than just room for improvement. It might be a good time for a pow-wow of athletic directors, coaches, referees, league officials and even players — to figure out what exactly the league wants from its officials. A little soul searching. Does the ECAC want to get known as a slog-it-out league where anything goes? Or is that just a faulty perception anyway? Officials will do a better job with a specific mandate.
- 1. Television. It’s unlikely the public will ever know the extent to which neglect and egotism cost the ECAC in recent years, but this much we can safely say: Any future between CSTV and the ECAC was all but dead as of a month ago, and now, alas, it is not. If nothing else becomes of this entire situation, this in and of itself was reason to change. It’s very possible the TV situation was ultimately the straw that broke the camel’s back in getting change accomplished. Hagwell’s first order of business, if it hasn’t been already (CSTV’s people were in Naples), is to shore up the relationship with CSTV. Other regional sports networks aren’t knocking down the ECAC’s door, but CSTV is happy to be a willing partner with all of college hockey. The ECAC also has the opportunity to get its championship weekend treated like the Super Bowl. You can’t let these kinds of opportunities be passed over in favor of saving a couple bucks. And you certainly can’t afford to alienate these kinds of partners through flat out neglect.
- 0. Get Out of Centerville. This wasn’t going to be on the list, but since the original announcement was made, it’s become apparent that this must happen soon, if the wheels haven’t been put in motion already. Forget the flowery language from Phil Buttafuoco in the ECAC press release when the announcement was made, he was peeved to say the least when he got word in Naples that he was out. At that point, he had two options: Be a good soldier, and lend a hand to the hockey league if a situation arose where he could be helpful; or ignore them. He actually chose worse than the latter, he decided to be obstructionist. The sooner the hockey league sets up shop in Albany — or somewhere like that — the better.
There’s a lot of optimism now. It’s time to seize on it, and make the ECAC truly the best it can be — a great conference with great tradition, guarding the confluence of athletics and academics better than any sports league in the NCAA.