Big Ten Hockey Conference Bad For College Hockey

The Wisconsin Badgers reacts after losing the championship game of the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four to the Boston College Eagles on April 10, 2010 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Boston College defeated Wisconsin 5-0 to win the national title. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Today, the Big Ten will formally announce its decision to form a six-team college hockey conference that would begin play during the 2013-14 season.

"The league will include the six Big Ten that will be playing D-I hockey by then - current WCHA schools Minnesota and Wisconsin; current CCHA schools Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State; and newcomer Penn State, which will begin play as an independent in 2012-13.

The most likely arrangement, according to sources, is a 20-game league schedule, with each team playing each other four times. That would leave at 14 non-league games per season to fill, however, no formal scheduling agreement with the remaining CCHA and WCHA members is expected at this time."

Now while more Michigan-Wisconsin and Michigan-Minnesota games are certainly good for those programs, forgive me if I don't get too jazzed about this development. This whole idea seems like a bad, bad idea for college hockey.

The B1G Ten would steal Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the CCHA, leaving both league with a bunch of smaller, hockey-first schools that would likely struggle to continue to field competitive programs.

The WCHA may be able to weather the Big Ten Hockey Conference storm, losing only Wisconsin and Minnesota. In recent years, the Badgers and Gophers certainly haven't dominated the league, and I'm sure traditionally strong programs like North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth would step up to headline the new 10-team conference.

But what of the CCHA, who would be left with Notre Dame, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), and smaller hockey schools like Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Alaska-Fairbanks. These programs have to rely on revenues generated when big programs like Michigan and Michigan State come to town, and it's unclear whether some of these programs will remain viable Division I clubs.

In fact, the CCHA has quite the track record of college hockey programs dropping men's ice hockey. Ohio University (1973), St. Louis (1979), Kent State (1994) and Illinois-Chicago (1996) are all former CCHA programs who have since dropped their varsity programs. The CCHA's Bowling Green Falcons -- where York won a National title in 1984 -- was on the verge of folding its men's hockey program a little over a year ago citing a large budget deficit.  

What about the competitive dynamic of the NCAA Tournament? The schools that would make up a Big Ten Hockey Conference earned all of one NCAA Tournament berth this year - Michigan. Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan State and Ohio State all had disappointing seasons and are staying home this postseason. If these schools are required to play just 20 conference games and fill the schedule with the remnants of the old WCHA and CCHA, it stands to reason that these programs could schedule their way into more NCAA berths.

As an example, both Hockey East and the ECAC got 3 teams into this year's NCAA Tournament field, though I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that the ECAC is as strong a hockey conference as Hockey East. ECAC programs play 22 league games and beat up on Atlantic Hockey, while Hockey East programs play 27 league games. Plus schools like BC, BU and Northeastern have two less non-conference games with the annual Beanpot Tournament.

The longer term implications are also clear. A Big Ten Hockey Conference adds more programming to the conference's cash-cow Big Ten Network, pumping more dollars into these programs and providing even more TV exposure.

Finally, the creation of a Big Ten Hockey Conference seems to shut the door a bit on future college hockey expansion. A six-team Big Ten Conference certainly wouldn't open the door for membership to non-Big Ten schools, as the conference wouldn't be willing to add more mouths to feed to its BTN revenue sharing agreement (unless that school was Notre Dame). The WCHA seems like it would hold steady with 10 teams. The same would likely hold true for Hockey East (10), ECAC (12) and Atlantic Hockey (12). An 8-team CCHA seems to be the only landing spots for school's looking to start up Division I men's programs, lest they go the Alabama-Huntsville route and remain independent.

The B1G Ten Hockey Conference is nothing more than the rich getting richer. And in my opinion, this is bad, bad news for the future of college hockey.

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