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College Hockey Realignment: Could Hockey East Save Bowling Green From Hockey Independence / Irrelevance?

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According to The Eagle Tribune's Mike McMahon, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish men's hockey team is deciding between heading west to join the newly created NCHC, heading east to join Hockey East or a mysterious third option:

"According to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, Notre Dame is deciding between joining Hockey East, the upstart National College Hockey Conference or "a third avenue." However, the sources were conflicting as to what that "third avenue" was.

I have been told by numerous sources that if Notre Dame wants to join Hockey East, they would be accepted."

If Notre Dame decides to join forces with HEA, that would bring the total number of teams to 11. Though it sounds like Hockey East would add Notre Dame without also adding a 12th team straight away, clearly the conference would look to add a twelfth program at some point to keep the league at an even number.

To be clear, Hockey East doesn't have to expand, but the league would be crazy not to add Notre Dame to the fold if the Irish want to come east. The question would then becomes who to add as a 12th program.

The last time we looked at possible Hockey East expansion targets, Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) ran a very clear 1-2. With Miami (Ohio) joining the NCHC, the RedHawks are now off the table. Unfortunately, the possible expansion targets remaining aren't all that appealing.

The targets basically boil down to either one of the six non-Ivy League ECAC teams -- Clarkson, Colgate, Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence or Union -- or a team from Atlantic Hockey.

I could still get behind picking up Quinnipiac, a program that has done well for itself in the ECAC and recently built a new $52 million, on-campus hockey arena. The other non-Ivy ECAC programs are all located in New York and it's hard to imagine just one defecting to Hockey East to join with Notre Dame, as these programs seem to fit nicely into logical pairs -- Clarkson and St. Lawrence, Union and RPI, Colgate and Cornell.

A move by any of the Atlantic Hockey expansion targets -- including Holy Cross and UConn -- would have to be accompanied by an increase in the number of hockey scholarships offered. It's clear that most of the eastern AHA programs aren't interested in doing this, as the league continues to shoot down any proposal by the western AHA schools like Robert Morris, Mercyhurst, Niagara and Canisius to up the scholly limit.

If none of the ECAC or Atlantic Hockey expansion candidates are appealing, I'm starting to come around to the idea of adding Bowling Green and pairing with Notre Dame as a 12th program. BGSU seems like the most attractive expansion candidate of the WCHA-CCHA-Alabama-Huntsville remnants, especially when you consider:

1. Bowling Green wouldn't have to increase the number of scholarships offered with a move to HEA
2. Bowling Green pairs nicely as a traveling partner to Notre Dame in much the same way that Miami (Ohio) was an attractive option before the RedHawks moved to the NCHC.
3. The traditional HEA powers -- BC, BU, New Hampshire and Maine -- along with Notre Dame wouldn't have to worry about BGSU stealing an NCAA Tournament at-large in the foreseeable future
4. The Jerry York connection

Bowling Green also gives Hockey East a bit more reach and sweetens any potential new HEA TV deal. Paired with Notre Dame, HEA would then have a presence in both Indiana and Ohio. BGSU's proximity to Michigan and the midwest could also conceivably improve recruiting efforts for the 10 current Hockey East programs.

In many ways, expanding to 12 with Bowling Green seems more appealing than if the twelfth team was Miami (Ohio). I think the NCHC will quickly find out that creating a conference of six "super" programs might not be all that it's cracked up to be when some of those programs fail to make the NCAA Tournament year in and year out. Notre Dame adds a hockey power to HEA, but BGSU gives the conference a little more balance between the hockey heavyweights (5 programs) and the rest of the league (7).

For now, we sit and wait for Notre Dame to make a move.