College Hockey Realignment: WCHA Agrees To Take On Remaining CCHA Programs

ST. PAUL, MN - APRIL 07: : Kenny Reiter #35 of the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs stops a shot by the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 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)

In a move that will hopefully stem the tide of college hockey realignment armaggedon, the WCHA has agreed to accept the five remaining CCHA schools into the conference, according to a report in College Hockey News.

"The switch from the CCHA to the WCHA is pending each individual schools' Board of Trustees approving the move. Announcements will thus come piecemeal, with the first ones potentially coming as early as Friday.

The WCHA has given the CCHA schools are 30-day window in which to officially accept the invitation. At least three CCHA schools are certain to accept - Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Alaska.

The moves would take place as of the 2013-14 season, the same season two new college hockey conferences - created from current WCHA and CCHA teams - are scheduled to begin."

All indications are that Lake Superior State, Ferris State and Alaska will join the WCHA, with only Western Michigan and Bowling Green still undecided. This move will likely push Notre Dame to either join the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) or head east and join Hockey East.

The Irish's move will likely decide the conference fate of both Western Michigan and Bowling Green. If the Irish decide on the NCHC, they would likely be accompanied by Western Michigan as the conference's eighth program. If Notre Dame decides on Hockey East, both Western and Bowling Green could decide to shack up with the NCHC. 

Either way, college hockey seems to have temporarily averted any sort of cataclysmic conference realignment that could open up the possibility of multiple programs left without a conference home and eventually shuttering its program's doors.

If I had to wager a guess, I think Notre Dame and Western Michigan will join the NCHC, pushing the league to eight programs, while Bowling Green will join Alaska, Ferris State and Lake Superior State in the WCHA for a total of 10 programs. That returns some stability to western college hockey, though still leaves Alabama-Huntsville out in the cold and decreases the chances that one of the western conferences would ever open its doors for expansion college hockey programs. Plus with Hockey East (10), the ECAC (12) and Atlantic Hockey (12) already at an optimal or close-to-optimal number, there's really not much room to grow the sport other than in the new NCHC (and the BTHC, but only for current B1G members). I'd imagine, however, that the NCHC would be very selective about adding new programs to the conference. 

Based on today's news, best guess as to how this western college hockey eventually looks in 2013-14:

NCHC (8) WCHA (10) Big Ten (6)
Colorado College Alaska Michigan
Denver Alaska-Anchorage Michigan State
Miami (Ohio) Bemidji State Minnesota
Minnesota-Duluth Bowling Green Ohio State
Nebraska-Omaha Ferris State Penn State
North Dakota Lake Superior Wisconsin
Notre Dame Michigan Tech  
Western Michigan Minnesota State  
  Northern Michigan  
  St. Cloud State
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