Note: UAH interim athletic director Cade Smith was interviewed on March 11, before concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus had shut down the college hockey season and essentially the whole sports world. On March 19, Smith revealed that he tested positive for the virus but is recovering.
The UAH hockey program heads into the offseason with about as much uncertainty as it has ever faced.
What likely will be the WCHA’s final season is next season, and UAH is again looking to join a conference in 2021.
The Chargers had a dreadful 2019-20 season with a record of 2-26-6, matching the school record for fewest wins.
“We’re disappointed in not being able to win more games,” UAH interim athletics director Dr. Cade Smith said. “And we’re disappointed in where we are as far as a league affiliation. We’ve got to figure some stuff out.”
That makes this offseason absolutely critical. UAH will likely not go the independent route again as it did from 2010-12, when finding home games was a struggle.
The primary target is CCHA 2.0. The seven schools that are leaving the WCHA to form a new conference in 2021 announced on February 18 that they are resurrecting the Central Collegiate Hockey Association name.
From a distance perspective, the CCHA makes the most sense for UAH. The trick will be getting the CCHA to agree to accept a school that it was leaving behind in the first place.
“First off, we have to get an audience with them to some degree,” Smith said. “We’ve been working with Collegiate Consulting, who is working with different teams in that league. The information I’m getting from our consultant is that probably nothing is happening as far as getting an audience until the commissioner is named for that new conference.”
Collegiate Consulting is an Atlanta-based company that has worked on a feasibility study to bring varsity hockey to the University of Illinois.
On February 25, the league announced it was starting its search for a commissioner. It might be a few months before UAH can even get to make its pitch. It’s also unknown how the concerns of COVID-19 will affect the timeline.
UAH is also close to figuring out who would lead that pitch. Smith is a finalist to become the permanent athletics director at UAH. A decision on the hire could be soon.
Smith has not conferred with the consultants about what would UAH’s pitch would be, but he said there are some selling points.
“(The CCHA) is already somewhat set to have a bus league, so that’s probably a knock on us. But I really actually think that most of those teams like coming down here to play. They do play in a nice arena down here. I think we’re in a really good city that has somewhat of a market that some of them do not have. It’s easy to get to Huntsville to play.
“We invested some money (in the in-game experience) and I think it was better. Did it bring more fans? It has not brought more fans yet, but I would think that just the casual observer would have seen a difference this year than in previous years.
“As far as commitment to other resources, we’re already towards the middle of the pack on the way we spend money on hockey compared to the rest of them anyway.
“We bring a lot of smart student-athletes into a conference. The type of graduates that we produce I think would be attractive to them.”
Smith said the Executive Plaza multi-use facility, which would be the new on-campus home for the hockey team, should not be considered a factor. The project is still too much of an idea rather than a definitive plan.
One other option is the Atlantic Hockey Association. The AHA currently has 11 teams, 10 in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and one in Colorado (Air Force).
The closest school to Huntsville would be Robert Morris in the Pittsburgh area. RMU, along with Niagara and Army, were former members of College Hockey America along with UAH.
The AHA was cold to the idea of UAH joining in the last round of realignment in 2013, but may be willing to listen this time. However, the AHA might wait for Navy, which would have to upgrade their club team to varsity, to have all three service academies.
That’s not to say AHA wouldn’t consider expanding to 13 teams with UAH and Navy. And it would be intriguing with Huntsville’s military background having the service academies visiting regularly again.
Meanwhile, the WCHA is exhausting any option it has to stay alive.
“We’re still in communication with the two Alaska schools and the (WCHA) office,” Smith said. “They’re updating us on what they’re attempting to do, but there just aren’t many options.”