Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Strange Bedfellows: Why a Big Ten Hockey Conference Could Push UND Hockey and UND Football to Join Forces

Strange as this may sound, a Big Ten Hockey Conference (BTHC) could benefit UND Football. Here’s how:

Big Ten (BT) commissioner Delaney seems to be pushing for it. He has some backing. Wisconsin Athletic Director (AD) Alvarez has threatened to move Wisconsin from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). Speculation on this subject is that Wisconsin wants to play more “name” opponents and fewer {town name here} State University type schools. A BTHC would solve that issue for Wisconsin as it would be made up of CCHA members Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State plus WCHA member Minnesota. However, Minnesota seems to have put a halt to those efforts, for now.

How do we know this isn’t just more speculative BTHC chatter that’s raged for well over a decade? Delaney used names of potential affiliate members for a BTHC. That means the commissioner has thought about this, and not just with a fan in a pub after a contest. Why affiliates? The BT does not have enough hockey playing full members (just five) to fill a conference. You really need six to eight to make it work.

Delaney is looking for Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) based affiliate members. Names used were Miami of Ohio, Western Michigan, and Bowling Green. All are presently CCHA members and all presently play FBS football in the Mid-America Conference (MAC). The MAC has a scheduling arrangement with the BT in football today. Finding hockey affiliates in the MAC would only seem logical given that.

(Side note: Does Minnesota, or Wisconsin for that matter, really want those MAC schools? Or would they rather have affiliates that have better potential to put fans into their football and hockey venues? MAC based affiliates only seems to really benefit Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State in that regard.)

If all of this were to happen, UND would be left in a “no Minnesota, no Wisconsin” WCHA. Some may be fine with that. However, is that what is best for UND Hockey and the University of North Dakota?

In this case, I’ll side with the Alvarez point of view. I’d rather UND be playing hockey peers like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

So, to team with the BT, per the words of BT commissioner Delaney, UND would need to move from the Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level that it is presently at to the FBS level. And which group of UND fans would be pushing for this? As strange as this sounds, hockey fans would be pushing. Would they have any other backing?

Well, some UND Football fans and friends questioned making the leap only to FCS, and not going the full way to FBS. They’d be in support. Also importantly, UND Hockey fans would also have a vested interest in the growth and success of UND Football as it could be their ticket, and continuing relationship, to a BTHC membership.

This is a scenario where both UND Football and UND Hockey would be working together for an outcome that would end up benefitting both, but for different reasons. I’m not sure if this has ever happened. I must say: strange bedfellows indeed.

What would be required? The move from FCS to FBS is not as large as the move from Division II to Division I FCS. Roughly 20 mens and 20 womens (don’t forget Title IX) scholarships would need to be added. Otherwise, most of the Division I requirements overlap as the FBS/FCS designators only apply to football.

However, the move is far larger. The key stumbling block would be having a football stadium large enough to meet the 15000 average attendance minimum of FBS. Alerus Center is limited at about 13000. Some will say “Average 15000? No way.” But that’s not the real issue as other schools have come up with creative ways to meet that minimum and UND could follow suit. And a schedule with interesting teams on it would bring out football fans of all sorts.

The keys come down to what any shift in UND Athletics comes down to: Money (scholarships and stadium) and Conference. That’s where the combined benefits of hockey and football working for a mutually beneficial outcome would work to the benefit of both, and seemingly all of UND as it would become even more prominent nationally.

Yes, it seems that there is a scenario where a BTHC would make strange bedfellows of UND Football and UND Hockey.

And who would have believed it would come from Jim Delaney and Barry Alvarez.

Closing Disclaimer: Before you, gentle reader, start shooting this to ribbons for thousands of good and logical reasons allow me to state that there are lots of issues that would need to be addressed and overcome to make this work. I’m not ignoring those; I’m just too lazy to bring them all up and address them all here.


Patrick C. Miller said...

"And who would have believed it would come from Jim Delaney and Barry Alvarez."

I don't believe it because I'd almost bet money that UND is the type of school they'd prefer to leave out of their exclusive club. Until UND can establish itself as a legitimate FBS school, they're not about to include us in their plans.

Anonymous said...

delaney doesn't care if the big 10 has hockey or not.

The Sicatoka said...

The BT commissioner's office was involved in discussions over the summer. That's definitely is not "doesn't care".