The First Save of Many?

The CHA’s demise seems all but a foregone conclusion. After Air Force departed in 2006, leaving the league with five teams, and Wayne State’s announcment that it will drop hockey at the end of this season bringing the enrollment down to four, it seems impossible for college hockey’s sixth conference to remain.

The pending question then is what happens to the remaining four members.

One answer came down on Friday as the WCHA and Bemidji State announced a scheduling agreement beginning in the 2010-11 season. Timed to coincide with the opening of the Bemidji Regional Events Center, the WCHA has guaranteed the Beavers program that its teams will schedule games home games for Bemidji. While this is far from a long-term solution for the Beavers or the remaining three programs – Nigara, Robert Morris and Alabama-Huntsville – it’s the first showing of guaranteed support by any of the remaining five men’s hockey leagues.

The release issues by Bemidji State’s athletic department states that the agreement with the WCHA would account for 12 non-league games, six at home and six on the road. The question that begs, then, is where will the Beavers find the remainder of their schedule. That is not addressed anywhere in the school’s press release.

At this point, there’s strong question about where the four remaining CHA members will even play hockey next season. The NCAA granted the conference the right to have an autobid despite being below the usual minimum of six teams. But it seems questionable whether the Men’s Division I Ice Hockey Committee will continue allowing that bid to exist.

There appears to be a no-room-at-the-inn mentality among all of the remaining five league. Atlantic Hockey, for one, has placed a moratorium for expansion on its league after adding Air Force and RIT at the beginning of the 2006-07 season. That moratorium will continue, at least, through the 2008-09 season.

None of the other conferences have shown any interest in expansion and even the WCHA’s efforts to help out Bemidji (the Bemidji women are members of the WCHA women’s league) though admirable, do not offer a long-term solution for the school.

There’s a part of me that believes that college hockey is about to see it’s first large batch of Division I independents in a long time next season. Even if they’re veiled as the CHA, a four-team league truly is nothing more than a scheduling alliance.

Much of this will not play out until after this year’s NCAA tournament when the respective league meet at the AHCA Convention in Naples, Fla., in late April.