Gross Misconduct Hockey Thoughts from a drifter on the hockey landscape

10/24/2011

So long UAH hockey; Now let’s point some fingers

After two years of trying to fight the good fight, Alabama-Huntsville hockey will be no more after this season.

Oh sure, interim school president and Alabama education hitman Malcolm Stopera will say that moving UAH hockey from Division I down to club level isn’t a big deal because there’ll still be hockey at UAH in some form, but this a needless killing and one that leaves a lot of blood on a lot of different hands in the college hockey world. The Alabama education system can justify their decision citing costs all they want to, but college hockey on the whole should feel sick about this as should the UAH leadership.

This wasn’t just one new conference coming to rise and writing UAH’s death warrant, this was a total failure on the part of college hockey world to help out a weakened brother. This is the fault of a hired gun brought into the UAH leadership to make the big decision and get the hell out of town as fast as possible.

This was a hired hit and one that the leaders of the CCHA, WCHA, NCHC, and Big 10 all helped bring about.

The CCHA’s failure to throw UAH a bone years ago when they added now-soon-to-depart Nebraska-Omaha to the conference was the first, and most deadly, shot across the bow for the Chargers. Tom Anastos and his group of ignorant conference leaders, who got their own come-uppances when the Big 10 Conference was formed, helped provide the example of how to ruin a school’s program. By leaving UAH to be independents, a team without a conference to call home, they left them to perish.

Here’s to hoping that Anastos, now the Michigan State head coach, can live with his decision. Of course, he comes out smelling like a dead rose through all of this mess after ditching the CCHA to coach Sparty who is conveniently ditching the CCHA themselves for the Big 10. Convenient, eh?

The conference realignment jumble, confusing in its own right in seeing the WCHA and CCHA try to save face after the Big 10 was formed and then seeing their own plans shot to pieces when the NCHC was created putting a final bullet in the CCHA and turning the WCHA into a conference filled with also-rans. Neither the NCHC nor the soon-to-be brand new WCHA even cast a glance toward UAH for membership.

Rather than help out UAH, the NCHC waited to see if Notre Dame would join their elitist hockey party only to be spurned in favor of Hockey East. An Irish middle finger is a middle finger nonetheless. The WCHA took on fellow death bed program Bowling Green in their scramble to put something that resembled a conference together. Did they call UAH though? No friggin’ way.

Instead, they ignored UAH. They let them sit around as an independent left to wither away and die without the help of a conference to call home and a conference schedule to give them a host of home dates. Take a look at UAH’s schedule for this, their now final season. The last games they play in Huntsville are in late February against the US National Development Team. Games like that are an exhibition meant to show the school off to guys they could potentially recruit.

Oops.

Instead, they’re going out at home with a whimper after a schedule that sees them play on the road in games they had to beg and plead for to play anyhow. This is what the college hockey landscape turned into – one that saw schools turn on each other to save their own skin and left the weakest of the litter out to starve.

Now these Chargers are being put down while a bunch of different hands are pushing off pulling the trigger on everyone else.

It’s sad. It’s sad and disgusting to see things play out this way for the south’s lone outpost for college hockey; A program that rose up from the lower levels of college hockey to become the little school in Dixie that could. They’ve made the NCAA Tournament, they’ve put the scare into top seeds (just ask Notre Dame about what they think of UAH).

Community and student support (both in showing up and financially) didn’t matter to the state of Alabama. All this was for them was a bottom line move, a correction of the books. College hockey, meanwhile, looks the other way while another one of their own dies. A family of 58 is now a family of 57 and there won’t be a single team that will care. The fans of college hockey all care and they’ll make it known at the Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida in April. It’s a bitter pill to swallow that it’s UAH playing the role of the host school, holding the celebration for the crowning of a new champion.

A disgusting end to UAH’s Division-I status concludes with a party on their grave.  While I doubt that Portera gives half a crap about his choice to demote the program, I wonder if the heads of these conferences that all had a hand in this slow killing can accept losing a team in an outpost where hockey is growing in a sport that needs a higher profile, not one that sees it let its hurting brothers die.

08/11/2009

Inexcusable: CCHA Votes Down Alabama-Huntsville

Today saw news that should make college hockey fans across America and parts elsewhere really upset:

CCHA Denies Alabama-Huntsville for Conference Admission

The CCHA has denied Alabama-Huntsville’s application for admission, putting the program’s future in even more jeopardy.

The Chargers are members of the CHA, which is set to disband after the 2009-10 season. The three other members have found other conferences, and UAH targeted the CCHA.

But the CCHA Council, a body made up of athletic administrators and faculty athletic representatives, on Tuesday voted by acclamation to deny UAH’s application for membership.

Well isn’t that nice.

The CHA is disbanding because the other three members of the conference have found more convenient homes for the 2010-2011 season. Bemidji State, an enjoyed program of this blog, is moving to the WCHA with soon-to-be former CCHA patron Nebraska-Omaha. Robert Morris University and Niagara University of the lame-duck CHA will move along to the alive-yet-weak Atlantic Hockey Association.

This situation left Alabama-Huntsville on the outside looking in. Given that they’re the only college hockey program located in the deep south, their program is one that has always raised eyebrows with casual observers of college hockey.

Hell, even long time college fans weren’t always aware of the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers – that is until 2007 when the bottom-seeded Chargers took top seeded Notre Dame to double-overtime in the first round of the NCAA Tournament before ultimately falling to the Fighting Irish 3-2 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Coincidentally enough, it was the same Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids that saw soon-to-be former CHA mates Bemidji State upset Notre Dame and Cornell just this past year in the NCAA Tournament earning them their first Frozen Four appearance as well as the acceptance of the WCHA to join their “exclusive” club of teams.

Fate is one cruel bitch.


“Et tu… All of you?!”

What’s fun about this announcement is that the CCHA decided to vote by acclimation so that no one school has to take the heat from the rest of the college hockey loving world for basically sending Alabama-Huntsville’s hockey program out to pasture.

Yes, that’s right, their hockey program is in a very bad spot right now. Other conferences that could have had UAH join up with them have already filled their ranks. That’s not to say that the WCHA was even a possible destination for the Chargers, but at least they were one of the conferences looking to expand.

Atlantic Hockey and the CCHA were it as far as geographic common sense and flexibility go. Atlantic Hockey made their move by bringing aboard the two logical CHA squads in Robert Morris (Pittsburgh, PA) and Niagara (near Buffalo, NY). Both the ECAC and Hockey East are much too far out of the way in the northeast and are set with their number of teams.

UAH is now looking at life, once again, as an independent team. They spent their first year back in Division I hockey as an independent in 1998-1999 but then joined the CHA after that. Previous to that, they were a Division II team for six seasons and a damn good one winning two Division II championships, thus making their jump back to Division I (after spending five years there from 1987-1992 as independents) one that made a world of sense.

Now? Limbo awaits the Chargers. Life as an independent team in Division I hockey is one that doesn’t lend itself well to any kind of success, be it on the ice or financially. Having no conference affiliation means there’s no conference tournament to play in and win a berth to the NCAA Tournament.

Having life as an independent should, ideally, mean that scheduling gets to be easier as you can pick and choose from any of the other 58 D-I schools. Problem with that is, everyone else is playing in a conference and subject to their own conference schedule dominating their weekly lives and having to live by the scraps of open dates the schedule allows to make games with other schools.

D-I football is perhaps the best high profile way we can look at how UAH may have to handle their new lives, should they choose to keep it up. In the past, there had always been a rather large handful of teams amongst the Independent ranks in college football.

Now there are three: Notre Dame, Army and Navy. What these three teams have in common is playing against each other as well as a hearty mix of cream puffs and menacing world beaters. Hell, even Army football gets a game against VMI each year so they’re guaranteed to not go winless.

Obviously Notre Dame sticks out here as the “shining example” of how to be a successful independent program. Then again, Notre Dame football is a beast unto itself having NBC carrying all their home games and a ridiculous legacy that is eternally fellated whether the team is any good or not.

Alabama-Huntsville hockey won’t exactly have any of these luxuries. There is no lucrative television contract to give the school money nor are there well-placed media pundits out there to proclaim the wonder and glory of Chargers hockey. It’s just how it is but the future is certainly very bleak for the sole Division I hockey program in the deep south.

For what it’s worth, the 2012 Frozen Four being held in Tampa, Florida is set to be hosted by none other than the University of Alabama, Huntsville. Given that this location has already been beset by bad press, most of which centered around the owners of the Tampa Bay Lightning bailing out of a college hockey tournament set to be hosted in Tampa last year, Alabama-Huntsville having their program potentially folding before the Frozen Four even arrives in Florida would be a tremendous black eye on college hockey.

For now though, UAH hangs on while the CCHA will have to take their much-deserved lumps for leaving a program out in the cold with little to no explanation:

“The league completed its due diligence of the application for membership submitted by the University of Alabama in Huntsville with careful consideration and discussion of various issues,” CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said in a news release. “At this time we have chosen to maintain our membership at its current level.

“The CCHA will remain focused on maintaining and strengthening our existing members to ensure the conference’s continued success and long-term viability.”

There’s a lot of buzzwords in there but what this boils down to for the CCHA is that they’re playing wait-and-see, which in this case, amounts to a game of chicken where they’re not risking a damn thing for themselves.

At stake here instantly is the future of Alabama-Huntsville hockey but there are some other things that come into play here. Whether it’s the imminent failure of another of its member teams in Bowling Green or the rise of a program out of the club ranks with a huge name to lend further credibility to both the CCHA and college hockey will remain to be seen.

If the CCHA has the ability to see the future and those situations do arise, I am sure they can also handle the responsibility of having the blood of potentially two (or maybe more) programs on their hands while allowing college hockey to become an even less-relevant niche sport on the collegiate landscape.

A year from now we could be just laughing at all of this as an incredible overreaction when the CCHA votes to allow UAH to join up with them after Bowling Green and other struggling CCHA members all find ways to prove their commitments to college hockey for the future and its all fun and games.

Then again, a year from now we could be looking at this vote to exclude UAH from the CCHAs reindeer games as the first domino to fall in what could prove to be a herd-thinning situation in college hockey.

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