“In chaos, there is opportunity.”
Those were the words of Minnesota State University, Moorhead President Edna Szymanski earlier today in a press conference where the Dragons became the first school to pounce on this week’s college hockey apocalypse as an opportunity to make a name for itself (Moorhead’s official release is here).
Moorhead first announced it was exploring the possibility of adding ice hockey in the spring of 2009, but at that time really didn’t have a viable conference home to join. The WCHA was, at that point, full, and publicly deflecting Bemidji State’s desire to join; that wasn’t an option. Travel costs would have made the CCHA impossible, and the CCHA was in the midst of proving it couldn’t care less about the fate of smaller hockey programs by allowing Wayne State to fold and giving the stiff-arm to Alabama-Huntsville’s formal application request. So, really, even if Moorhead would’ve had the money in 2009, they had nowhere to play.
All that changed this week when the WCHA blew up like the Death Star.
The conference dropped to five members for 2013-14 when the five breakaway schools poached Miami University to form the NCHC, and will likely make quick work of the Northern Michigan application to get back to an NCAA conference-legal six members, while also further plundering the CCHA and making that conference’s prospects for long-term survival look pretty bleak (unless they start pillaging Atlantic Hockey for expansion members, which could happen). Bruce McLeod, the commissioner of the WCHA, has said his ideal WCHA has eight members – that leaves Moorhead staring down the barrel of two open slots in its dream conference and, in fact, probably the only conference affiliation that makes any financial sense if they’re to get hockey off the ground.
It’s a tremendous opportunity – for Moorhead, if they can pull it off, but also for the schools that splintered off from the WCHA and CCHA to form the Big Ten (along with Penn State’s expansion program) and the NCHC. If Moorhead can get its money together, launch men’s and women’s hockey and get itself into the WCHA, then this sport-shattering conference realignment will have allowed college hockey to expand by two programs in one year. That is huge for a sport that has seen more programs fold than start in the decade since I’ve been, directly and indirectly, following college hockey as part of my job here.
It also gives the Big Ten and NCHC no small portion of moral high ground. They’ll be able to – rightly – say “Look, you may not like what we’ve done, but these moves have directly and indirectly led to the creation of two new programs — and you all have said you wanted college hockey to grow again.”
I hope Moorhead’s efforts are successful. It’d be fun to have another program in the state, they’re a natural rival with BSU in our Division II sports, and they’re in a part of the state that has a college hockey void. They have a lot to accomplish before they green-light it, but the next three months will be fun as the college hockey world watches to see if they can pull it off.`