Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson's recent comments to the Bangor Daily News have other CCHA programs slightly freaked out at the possibility of losing both the three Big Ten hockey programs and Notre Dame. This caused Miami University Athletic Director Brad Bates to tell the Dayton Daily News that everyone needs to chillax:
"Hockey is a great sport, but it's got to be handled very carefully, and delicately," Bates said Tuesday, "because the number of Division I programs is not excessive."
Bates clearly has a vested interest in keeping the remaining eight CCHA programs together. The RedHawks have become one of the CCHA's elite programs in recent years, competing with Michigan and Notre Dame annually for the CCHA title (and filling a void at the top of the conference left by Michigan State).
If Notre Dame defects from the CCHA to join Hockey East, that would be a tough blow to absorb for the conference, and for Miami specifically. The CCHA would then be left with the three MAC schools -- Miami, Western Michigan and Bowling Green -- and four schools that are Division II in other sports. The ramifications of such a move by the Irish are pretty clear.
"Sure, every school is looking out for their own self-interest," Bates said. "My hope is that the national leadership in hockey is carefully anticipating the ramifications of any of these models."
Sounds great in theory, but as we've seen in the most recent rounds of conference expansion, it rarely works out that way in practice.
If the Irish do leave the CCHA for Hockey East, Miami would have several moves available. The moves as stated in the Dayton Daily News article include:
1. Miami joining Notre Dame in Hockey East
2. Notre Dame and/or Miami becoming associate members of the Big Ten Hockey Conference
3. North Dakota and Denver joining the CCHA
4. WCHA and CCHA joining forces to form a mega-conference
While option 1 seems like a logical one, I'd imagine it would be tougher for Miami to bolt than it would be for Notre Dame. Notre Dame has its football independence and Big East ties to fall back on if it decides to move to Hockey East (joining fellow conference member Providence). Miami, on the other hand, would be ditching fellow MAC members Western Michigan and Bowling Green in the process, which would probably go over as well as BC's move to the ACC did back in 2004.
Options 2 and 3 don't seem all that likely to me. I doubt BTHC would extend associate membership invites when they can just as easily expand internally with Northwestern, Illinois or Indiana. With option 3, I really don't see why North Dakota and Denver would be willing to leave a relatively stable situation in the WCHA -- left with 10 teams -- for the CCHA, which would have seven programs left.
Option 4, while intriguing, doesn't seem very plausible as it would balloon the total number of programs to 17-18 (based on whether Notre Dame decided to stay put).
Another option not mentioned in the article would be for the CCHA to reload with Atlantic Hockey programs like Niagara and Robert Morris. It's believed that those two programs -- along with Air Force, Canisius and Mercyhurst -- are in favor of increasing the scholarship limits for their programs, a measure that failed to pass at their recent league meetings.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out. Unfortunately for Bates and the RedHawks hockey program, I don't think there's any silver bullet or master plan on how this will all shake out. And while I would love to see Miami join Notre Dame in Hockey East, I think a move east by the RedHawks is much less likely than a similar move by the Irish.