USCHO’s Jim Connolly reported today on Hockey East’s progress in looking for a successor to Joe Bertagna, who is retiring as league commissioner after 23 years. There were a couple minor details — 11 candidates in all, 4 still in the running — but the biggest scoop of the article was his report that quickly spread like wildfire across Twitter that several ADs are making a push for Hockey East to cease operations and move the teams into an all-sports league.
According to multiple sources with knowledge of the process, a faction of athletic directors is trying to move the current 11-team conference away from a standalone league and into an all-sport conference.
Should this happen, Hockey East, which has existed since the summer of 1984, could be no longer and a current Division I all-sport conference would administer the league.
The article points out the main conference that would make the most sense, America East, which already has Maine, New Hampshire, Lowell, and Vermont as all-sports members, and Boston University as a former member. And sure, that would make the most sense among the options, if you accept the premise that the league would join an all-sports conference.
The main thinking behind the potential move seems to be focused around added resources — additional staff that would be available as part of there being a larger governing body. But on its face, at least from the tone of the article, there doesn’t seem to be much of a “There” there. It sounds like a few ADs at smaller schools want more influence. You can get Boston College is not one of those schools looking to join America East. For what it's worth, a source close to BC Athletics has heard “literally nothing” about anything to this effect being discussed at BC.
The same sources that confirmed the potential for moving the 11-team conference to an all-sport platform also note that none of this is anywhere close to final. Which also might lead one to think that school vs. school, athletic director vs. athletic director, there could be a significant amount of in-fighting that exists.
That definitely seems to be the case.
What’s funny about all this is that in the same article, the school administrators are noted as saying they want to be more like the NCHC — the National Collegiate Hockey Conference — which, I shouldn’t need to add, is a hockey-only conference. The NCHC’s league-wide streaming plan and success on the national stage is admirable, and being a hockey-only conference is clearly not an impediment to that.
The Big Ten is the only college hockey conference that sponsors all sports, and the adjustment has been a mixed bag. It wasn’t a choice (league bylaws required it once there were enough teams), but there was nonetheless a huge backlash from breaking up traditional rivalries and starting a new conference with no history.
It seems hard to believe that Hockey East would “dissolve” onto to re-form as its current structure as part of a low-level all-sports conference like America East — optics and marketing wise, going from being a conference with a ton of history and prestige within the sport to being a small part of an already minor conference would give the league a feeling of being small-time. For example, Hockey East is at least a peer league of the Big Ten. If you’re a big hockey recruit, are you going to want to play in America East or the Big Ten?
So, it stands to reason that there’s not much going on here. That's not to say that Connolly's article wasn't worth writing, because if there's some internal strife going on causing some schools to want to look at other options for the league, then that's definitely a story. But all this seems to be is that some conference members that are already a part of America East are probably just interested in getting hockey rolled into a conference that they’re already a part of. But there’s no real benefit to the league ditching its prestigious name just in the interest of being a part of a different conference when Hockey East already works very well.