On Tuesday, Grant gave us the glass half full look at the addition of UConn to Hockey East. While I appreciate a bit of enthusiasm for the Hockey East Association's newest member, I have other plans in mind for Boston College hockey.
It's time for Boston College to leave Hockey East.
My reasoning is simple: Hockey East has straight up botched expansion. There hasn't been a well-thought out expansion plan. Or maybe no expansion plan at all. Perception is reality and the perception, at least to me, is that the league all but fell over themselves themselves to toss a life raft out to Notre Dame hockey when the NCHC turned the Irish away. Expansion to 11 necessitated expansion to 12 to get to a round number, I suppose, and now a historically bad Atlantic Hockey club calls eastern college hockey's premiere conference home.
To recap, here has been Hockey East's two most recent moves:
1. Added Notre Dame as the Association's 11th team, despite the Irish striking their own TV deal with NBCUniversal (NBC Sports Network, formerly Versus) to broadcast all Irish men's hockey home games. Mind you, this was a dealbreaker for another conference (the nascent NCHC) which has yet to play a league game.
2. Added UConn to get to 12, a program that has never played in the NCAA Tournament, doesn't offer scholarships in men's ice hockey and has decided to play its HEA home games 20+ miles from campus at the HCC. If Toot Cahoon just resigned from UMass citing lack of institutional support as his reason, who do you think UConn is going to get to coach the program; one squarely behind women's basketball, men's basketball, football and maybe baseball in terms of fan support and popularity?
It is also largely assumed that the conference will scale the number of league games down to 22 (down five from 27). The schedule will include two games a year against every other conference opponent in a home-and-home series, with the possible exceptions of Notre Dame, Maine and Vermont, where teams would play two away in one year and two at home the next given travel concerns.
I maintain that the league will quickly regret the decision to have nine less games a year between a program like BC and current league mates in favor of four against Notre Dame and UConn, a program the Eagles have never faced. Less BC-BU is just bad for business. As is playing your biggest games of the year in a Convention Center miles from campus.
Just as BC, BU, New Hampshire, Northeastern and Providence decided to break away from the ECAC to form a new college hockey conference in 1983, it's time for Boston College to lead the charge in the formation of a new eastern college hockey conference.
Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence and Maine should break away from Hockey East to form a new, six-program New England college hockey power conference to rival the new Big Ten Hockey Conference.
This new conference would play a 20-game conference schedule -- two home, two road against every other team in the conference -- leaving room for up to 14 non-conference games a year. The conference tournament would likely look similar to the Big Ten Hockey Conference's tournament format, with Thursday quarterfinals pitting the 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5, and the Friday night semifinals pairing the top seed vs. the highest remaining seed, and the 2 vs. the lowest remaining seed. Championship game would be on Saturday night, with all games played at the Garden.
The benefits of this new conference are two-fold. Not only would this free a program like BC from playing 10 games a year against programs like Lowell, Merrimack, UConn, UMass and Vermont, it would give us more games against BC's traditional rivals (more BC-BU is good for everyone) and more opportunity to bring in marquee non-conference opponents from the BTHC and NCHC. This arrangement also frees up the conference from the Notre Dame NBCUniversal TV shackles to allow the conference to pursue its own media rights deal with a national network like CBS Sports Network or NBC Sports Network. Improves the schedule and improves the prospects of landing a better media rights deal.
Why include Providence and Northeastern over programs like Notre Dame or UMass? Rivalry for one. Both those programs are founding members of Hockey East, where programs like UMass or Notre Dame are newer additions to the conference and share much less history with a school like BC than either PC or Northeastern does. This also preserves the bus league, with Orono being the only trip of any significant distance.
This new league also eases scheduling and travel constraints considerably and evens the playing field. Four games a year against everyone else in the conference -- two home, two away -- gives the conference a balanced schedule that is just not possible with 12 programs and schools located in South Bend, Burlington and Orono.
Finally, a move like this serves to help grow the sport of college hockey by re-drawing conference lines, which would allowing more room for growth than at present. With UConn's move to Hockey East, Hockey East, the ECAC and Atlantic Hockey (when they backfill UConn's spot in the conference) will all be at 12 teams, providing eastern schools no opportunity to break into a conference. Unlike football, independence is not a viable solution in college hockey. Ask Alabama-Huntsville.
If the Big 4, Northeastern and Providence broke away from Hockey East, eastern hockey could re-draw conference lines and open up numerous opportunities for other schools -- Rhode Island? Syracuse? Buffalo? -- to join the ranks of Division I-A.
I'd imagine the Hockey East leftovers would band together and add the best of the non-Ivy League ECAC clubs and/or Atlantic Hockey to form a 10-team league. Similarly, Atlantic Hockey programs looking to upgrade could join the Ivy League schools in the ECAC, adding room for the AHA to grow with upstart eastern college hockey programs.
Will this happen? No. This idea is way too far out there. I don't think a school like Boston College has the stones to make a move like this, nor do I think the current administration thinks anything is broken / isn't aware that Hockey East recently added Notre Dame and UConn / could name you seven of the 10 current Hockey East programs. It would take a really strong leader who sees the value in college hockey to run with this idea and see it through.