Commentary: CCHA’s Thumbs-Down To Huntsville Reeks of Elitism

It appeared to be one of the best-laid road maps.

The solution that seemingly was brokered between all college hockey conferences and the 58 member institutions that would find homes for the four “homeless” members of the CHA looked almost too good to be true.

Thanks to the CCHA, looks certainly aren’t meant to be deceiving — this deal certainly was far too good to be true.

In June, when the WCHA announced that it would admit both Bemidji State and CCHA member Nebraska-Omaha, the road was clear for the CCHA to take the final step in displaying solidarity. Atlantic Hockey got the ball rolling when it agreed to take in Niagara and Robert Morris. The final piece of the puzzle lay in Alabama.

The CCHA could admit Alabama-Huntsville, a program with a rich hockey history at the Division II level and a successful member of the Division I ranks in the CHA, and push together the final piece to college hockey’s jigsaw puzzle.

Alas, the CCHA turned up its noses at lonely Huntsville, denying it like an ugly stepchild. The reasons aren’t rising to the surface just yet, but what has been said to this point seems like nothing but college hockey’s version of elitism.

Yes, the CCHA is loaded with some college powerhouses: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame. But there are also some members whose “gear” can’t be bought at your big-box retailers or the commercial sporting goods stores. These schools like Lake Superior State, Alaska, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, Northern Michigan — where were they when it comes to saving a small-school program?

Truth is, they might have fought long and hard for Huntsville. We may never know. The CCHA’s bylaws required nine of 11 members (Nebraska-Omaha wasn’t allowed a vote as it’s on the road to WCHA-ville) to vote in favor of UAH’s admission for it to happen. Enough members turned up their noses at the Chargers, and now this once-proud hockey power might be writing its swan song as it sails toward extinction.

A day later, not a lot has been written, which is expected when offseason news comes about. But Danny Martin of the Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, Alaska, shared some views from Alaska athletic director Forrest Karr, who had one of the 11 votes in the decision.

These views truly bothered me.

Said Karr, “Some people had concerns about a lack of commitment.” Really? This school has had to survive for more than a decade since the NCAA demolished Division II hockey and it has done so admirably. UAH was a founding member of the CHA, the conference for the programs that just didn’t seem to fit the existing landscape geographically, academically or financially. As CHA members dropped programs, UAH, along with Niagara, Robert Morris and Bemidji State proudly stayed the course. How’s that for commitment?

He also noted that the institution “isn’t in a major recruiting market.” Wow, I didn’t know that Fairbanks, Alaska, was such a hockey hotbed. How about South Bend, Ind.? That market didn’t seem to hurt Notre Dame when it played for the national title in 2008.

A final argument was that student-athlete welfare was a concern because of the “missed class time due to long bus trips.” This one is a real laugher. For starters, Huntsville, Ala., is closer to or about equidistant to Omaha, Neb., for most CCHA schools. That hasn’t destroyed student-athletes to date, has it? Heck, what’s the impact of these same student athletes having to take 10-plus hour plane rides to Fairbanks, Alaska?

When push comes to shove, it’s hard for anyone to substantiate why the CCHA members voted down UAH’s application other than to revert back to my original cry of elitism. The united cry from college hockey over the past few years has been that every conference, every school, should do anything possible to save the current programs that exist. Somehow that message didn’t get to the CCHA.

One final quote from Mr. Karr: “I hope this is not a death sentence for them, and I hope it’s not the end of their program. The last thing anyone wants to see is the loss of any Division I college hockey program.”

OK, so maybe the party-line message did reach the CCHA. Just seems that the membership was too high on their horses, though, to really listen.


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