College hockey realignment is happening again. Is UAH ready?
On Friday, seven WCHA schools announced they plan to break away and form a new league that would begin play in the 2021-22 season, leaving UAH, Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage. Barring getting a handful of new members, the conference’s days are effectively numbered.
The “Runaway Seven” are tired of having to travel to Alabama and/or Alaska (sometimes twice) every year, even though UAH, UAA, and UAF were providing them subsidies. They are also tired of UAH and the Alaska schools dragging the league down, wanting to play with members who display “a level of institutional investment that demonstrates significant commitment to their hockey programs and facilities.”
It was inevitable, when you think about it. The current WCHA was a forced marriage of leftovers from the WCHA and CCHA following the formation of the NCHC, and UAH. Bowling Green is the biggest of the lot, the only full Division I university. This setup was going to tax budgets and schools were going to be unhappy.
UAH interim athletics director Dr. Cade Smith, who took over for E.J. Brophy last month, released a statement on Monday, saying the news came without warning and that the university is “committed to hockey, and we want to do what it takes to give our program what it needs to be successful.”
I do not doubt Dr. Smith, but the administration must step it up to make UAH attractive to potential conference suitors.
Last year, I wrote about how the UAH hockey program had improved since joining the WCHA, but risked stagnation without a proper boost in support.
I listed a number of areas of focus, from increasing marketing and promotions (a notorious problem), raising the recruiting budget, growing booster club membership, increasing student involvement, and improving media production.
However, those same issues are still prevalent, especially compared to the many peers in the WCHA. And, whatever you think of his coaching record, puts Mike Corbett at a disadvantage when it comes to recruiting and reduces UAH’s image in the eyes of the WCHA and the college hockey world.
Going forward, UAH has the potential to be in good shape with the proposed multi-use facility that would be Charger hockey’s new on-campus home. However, that’s still just an idea that certainly won’t be ready by 2021 and it’s unknown whether the looming breakup of the WCHA will affect the project.
For now, UAH must expect to go above and beyond what was necessary to get into the WCHA in 2013.
A critical factor: Who UAH hires as its next athletics director.
Brophy is no longer the AD, being reassigned within the university. Smith, who is also the Charger volleyball coach, is serving as AD on an interim basis. UAH probably won’t hire a permanent AD until Brophy’s contract expires next year.
UAH might consider posting the position right away.
Dr. Darren Dawson, who recently became UAH’s new president, will be making the hire. Dawson succeeded Dr. Robert Alterkirch, who made the decision to save the hockey program in 2013 and was the proponent of the proposed new arena.
Optimally, UAH needs someone with administrative experience in hockey, someone who knows the college hockey landscape and has trust within it, and someone who will find innovate ways to raise funds, increase student and community involvement.
The current and future leaders of UAH athletics must see the potential and act on it.
UAH hockey simply can’t be an independent program again. In this round of musical chairs, just getting by isn’t going to cut it.