CCHA intends to remain viable, commissioner says, but has to let events unfold

While the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has led to something akin to panic from some of the college hockey world, the CCHA is letting events unfold the way they will. That, according to commissioner Fred Pletsch, is just about the sum total of what the CCHA can do — for now.

“I reflected on my role in the last little while, which is really no different than when I started,” said Pletsch, who was named the league’s commissioner in early May after Tom Anastos left to become Michigan State’s head coach in April. Pletsch has been with the CCHA since 2001, when he was named director of communications; he was named associate commissioner in 2008.

“Regardless of what happens, it’s business as usual for the CCHA for the next two years — that hasn’t changed — but with the changes to the membership coming after that.”

Pletsch said that the league is committed to remaining a viable college hockey conference. “My first priority is to maintain the solvency of the CCHA brand, which has been around for 40 years,” he said. “Failing that, if circumstances dictate otherwise, I see my role as seeing that there’s a place in a league for each of our member schools.”

With the Big Ten’s announcement that it will begin league play in 2013-14 and Wednesday’s announcement of the NCHC — also slated to begin play in 2013-14 — both the WCHA and CCHA find themselves down several members. The WCHA has been perceived as having been more proactive, reportedly courting current CCHA members Northern Michigan and Alaska to keep its member enrollment high.

Two other CCHA members, Notre Dame and Western Michigan, may also be leaving; Notre Dame is reportedly being courted by both the NCHC and Hockey East, while WMU has released a video to promote itself to interested leagues.

“The moves that have been made really are not unexpected,” Pletsch said. “As soon as the Big Ten announced — and I said this before and it still applies — schools in the WCHA and the CCHA and right through to Atlantic Hockey and other leagues were saying, ‘Where do we fit into the landscape?’ Some teams have proactively made some changes … and some have done some preliminary exploring.

“I think what you’ve seen so far, the move by Miami and the five WCHA teams, that was a direct response to what the Big Ten did. You can’t dispute that. What the WCHA is left with, that’s a pretty good geographic and institutional fit now. Our league kind of has geography working against it a bit. I would expect more moves.”

Pletsch said that he couldn’t comment on CCHA teams that plan to leave the conference before those teams announce their decisions, nor could he speculate on any realignment that would include teams currently in other leagues joining the CCHA in the future. He has been active, however, in trying to keep the CCHA running beyond the next two seasons.

“Once the Big Ten schools announced, if you looked at the eight remaining teams [in the CCHA], if you took those eight remaining teams under the parameters of how college hockey operates, it’s a pretty good league,” Pletsch said. “My initial focus was to put together how that league would function in terms of budget, in terms of championship, and funneled that to the members [during coaches meetings in Florida in April] and they looked at it and some of them made a decision to look elsewhere. That’s their right. Everyone acknowledges that everyone has a right to go where they think they fit best.”

What most people don’t realize is that decisions about league affiliation don’t rest simply with hockey coaches and their staff. Ultimately, it’s up to the administrations of member institutions to decide where schools not otherwise affiliated — like Big Ten schools — will play their conference hockey. It is a decision-making process that depends on much more than just previous conference affiliation, and there are finances to be considered.

“Decisions right now are going to be based on institutional philosophy and geography,” Pletsch said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Should CCHA members decide to leave or other schools from outside the CCHA apply for affiliation, Pletsch said he’ll play an active role in that. “You facilitate meetings and forums for schools to get together and discuss what they need to do, should it come to it,” he said.