The Notre Dame Fighting Irish react to their loss to the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs during semifinals of the 2011 NCAA Men's Frozen Four on April 7, 2011 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 4-3. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
The formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference for the 2013-14 season will likely set off a series of Division I college hockey realignments, with one of the biggest potential losers being a program like Notre Dame. Irish hockey may very well find itself on a sinking ship called the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
You see, the CCHA is set to lose its three big-revenue athletics programs -- Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State -- leading many to speculate on the future feasibility of the conference. After the departure of the three Big Ten programs, the CCHA will be left with just eight programs:
-- Notre Dame
-- Three MAC schools -- Bowling Green, Miami Ohio and Western Michigan
-- Four schools who compete in Division II for all other sports -- Alaska Fairbanks, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan
This has led many to speculate that the Irish could head east to join Hockey East, or head west to join the WCHA. Either move will likely be an option for the Irish, as I'm sure both conferences will bend over backwards to add Notre Dame to the fold.
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson isn't exactly shooting down rumors about joining the Hockey East Association, telling the Bangor Daily News:
"It's a possibility. I know our athletic director and associate athletic director are doing their due diligence in looking at all of the the alternatives.
"I have a lot of respect for the programs and coaches in Hockey East," said Jackson. "That has been one of the premier leagues in the country over the last 15 years."
And while the final decision isn't up to Jackson, it's nice to hear that Jackson is looking at factors beyond just the Irish hockey program:
"Our university is open to everything right now. As I've said, a lot has to do with going to a conference with like-minded schools. The Catholic-aspect and academic aspect are strong suits for Hockey East."
As I've mentioned before, Notre Dame should be expansion target numbers 1, 2 and 3 for Bertagna. It's a slam dunk for the conference to bring the Irish east, as the similarities between Notre Dame and the 10 Hockey East members are numerous. It would also strengthen the conference and help Bertagna negotiate a better TV package for the next cycle.
And really, it would be a shame to see the Irish head west to the WCHA, or stand pat in the CCHA, for that matter. I also highly doubt that the B1G Ten will allow Notre Dame to become an associate Big Ten Hockey Conference member without further pressing the Irish to give up its football independence. This might happen, but it certainly won't come easy to Notre Dame.
There's obviously the question around rounding up the number of Hockey East members to an even 12, but I think if Syracuse is seriously considering a jump to Division I in men's hockey, then the Orange are a logical expansion target. As mentioned in the article, one of the local Atlantic Hockey members who want to up the number of scholarships to 18 could also be in play, but the logical choices there -- UConn, Holy Cross -- have been largely non-competitive in the AHA.
Adding just Notre Dame though seems like an option even if 11 teams is a bit unwieldy. A twelfth program would have to add significant value to the conference as Hockey East will certainly be a position of power during the assumed next round of conference musical chairs.
What do you think? Are you welcoming the Irish to Hockey East with open arms? Or should we let Notre Dame sweat it out a little and let them either join the WCHA, BTHC or stick it out with the CCHA?