Geof F. Morris

Nov 122016
 

“Why isn’t Carmine Guerriero playing?”

This is a common question to Michael and me, and since we’ve never addressed it here, let’s do this:

  1. Carmine Guerriero told me back in September that he didn’t think that he’d play Division I hockey.  He was bound for D-III or CIS hockey.  UAH needed a third, and they knew the truth as well as anyone: with our favorite fighting Frenchman (okay, French-Canadian) having been born on 1992-02-20, would be ineligible for a year of NCAA hockey for having played 12 games for the CCHL’s Hawkesbury Hawks in his final year in juniors.
  2. Carmine came here anyway and has had a couple okay games along the way.  True, last year’s campaign was not what he or anyone else wanted, but he’s a fine young man, a valuable part of the team, and a good student.
  3. UAH and Guerriero appealed to the NCAA in the offseason for Carmine to get some eligibility for this season.  The argument was effective, but Guerriero’s grant of a fourth year came at the cost of missing 12 games at the beginning of the season, one for each of the games played over age.

UAH was never at risk of forfeiting games, as some have feared — Guerriero was simply awarded more eligibility than would otherwise have been afforded him by NCAA rules.  All parties involved recognized this: giving Carmine another year of hockey eligibility allows him to hone his skills for play at any further level but far more importantly gives him a chance to complete his degree on time.

I’d say that Jordan Uhelski earned the Friday start based on his body of work during those 12 games, but I expect that we’ll see 35 soon enough.  This isn’t a situation where the NCAA missed the ball (that one still completely boggles me because hockeydb is right over there, bro) but is one where everyone went in with clear eyes and good intentions, both in the past and this summer.

See ya soon, Carm.  Don’t throw away your shot.

Aug 312016
 

The NCHC said no today to expansion bids from Arizona and Minnesota State.

The word on the street is that the Alaska situation is a concern, although not a primary one.

This obviates the recovery for a 7-team WCHA that I proposed the other day, but an 8-team WCHA would have some travel issues as well.  The question is going to be very simple: if the Alaska schools drop Division I athletics at both campuses, will the WCHA be comfortable with an 8-team scheduling matrix?

Eight teams drives you to play your seven opponents home-and-away: Huntsville every year, Bemidji every year, everyone every year.  Do you add two teams to ameliorate that travel?  You’d consider it, but who could come aboard?  The exit fee to leave the NCHC is $1.5MM per Brad E. Schlossman, and that means that you’re not going to see Western Michigan and Miami come back to a league that would look increasingly like the old CCHA.  [Also not happening: WMU and MU for BSU and MSU.  This isn’t a Yahoo! college hockey fantasy league.]

What about Arizona State?

Good question!  I know that the WCHA really wanted to get a name school into the league, and even with an uncertain arena situation (see the first link up top from CHN), it may be a good fit for the league.  I noted earlier today that the WCHA may want to get them and make it hard for them to leave.  While it may look bad to add a geographical outlier like the Sun Devils, the matter of fact is that a 9-team WCHA that loses the Alaska schools but adds Arizona State can easily put in a system where you generally don’t play in Tempe and Huntsville every year, the biggest flight for most schools.

Would the WCHA want to add Arizona State and another team to go stay at 10 teams?

That’s a big maybe.  Robert Morris is probably the most sensible option, as you can make UAH-ASU a scheduling pair and make BGSU-RMU a travel pair.  From Sunday:

BGSU-RMU: The two schools aren’t terribly far apart, and Ohioans largely hate Pittsburgh.  Also, losing the pairing with UAH keeps their travel costs down.  Keeping BGSU is key for the health of the league — probably moreso than any other team.

The resulting geographic pattern isn’t a terrible one:

WCHA - Alaskas + ASU + RMU

What if the Alaska schools survive?  Will Arizona State get in anyway?

I’m going to bet yes, and I think that they’d look at add a 12th (e.g., RMU) to keep a core in the arc of the Midwest in order to keep travel costs down for schools that aren’t far-flung.

There’s a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous.  I did a lot of work on this the other night, and I’m sure that I’ll do more. But I’ll probably be pulling it off this site and onto another one.

Aug 282016
 

Now to be clear, we want none of these things to happen, but it’s entirely possible that Minnesota State may leave the WCHA (a stronger bet now that Arizona State is angling for a slot in the NCHC) and that the Alaska schools don’t survive the chopping block.  What comes next?

At that point, the WCHA is a 7-team league: four teams in Michigan (Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior, and Ferris State), and one each in Minnesota (Bemidji State), Ohio (Bowling Green), and Alabama.  That league looks something a bit like this, geographically:

Midpoint, 7-team WCHA

The only thing that league would have going for it would be a killer postseason tournament on a frozen Lake Michigan (or, failing that, one of those crazy Space-X rocket-landing barges flooded with an ice sheet).  A 7-team league would be a hard sell, because the only sensible scheduling mechanism, a 24-game league schedule where you play each team home-and-away, would be brutal on travel for six small schools and Bowling Green.  That’s a league that the Falcons would try to quickly exit if no new teams come in.  It’s also a modestly-upgraded College Hockey America.

But what if another shift in tectonic plates involves some Eastern teams on the western edge of things?  I’m specifically thinking of three schools who have had success in Atlantic Hockey, two of whom were previously in the CHA: Niagara, Robert Morris, and RIT.  Here’s what a geographic footprint with those teams looks like:

Raiding Atlantic Hockey

Now Niagara has been down on its luck the last three seasons, losing 20+ games in each of those campaigns.  RIT has faded a little bit, too, but they’re consistently a solid team.  Lastly, RMU has been scorching hot since the demise of the CHA, winning at least 17 games in every campaign.

Here’s how you make that setup work.  Remember that the WCHA has had a 28-game league schedule for 10 teams: one team you play as a travel pair, and the other eight alternate in a two- or four-game fashion.  Here are your sensible pairings:

  1. UAH – Bemidji.  Neither team has another WCHA team in their state or a neighboring one, the two are rivals, and the Beavers aren’t going to horn in on a rivalry with Tech, the team closest to them.  This is the toughest travel pairing in the league, but someone is going to lose out in any deal like this.
  2. Tech – Northern.  This is an established pairing from the current WCHA setup.
  3. Lake – Ferris.  This is also an established pairing.
  4. BG – RMU.  The two schools aren’t terribly far apart, and Ohioans largely hate Pittsburgh.  Also, losing the pairing with UAH keeps their travel costs down.  Keeping BGSU is key for the health of the league — probably moreso than any other team.
  5. Niagara – RIT.  The two NY schools make sense to put together, especially for those snowy upstate winter weekends.

Pairing UAH and Bemidji also puts teams into a situation where it’s rare that a team will have to make both trips in a season — just once in every four seasons.  Even better, you can do your two-game/four-game flip on the pairings: UAH plays Tech four times and Northern twice, then flips the next season, etc.  That lowers travel costs pretty significantly for everyone save Bemidji and UAH, who unfortunately (for them) don’t fit into any other league.

Let’s do a thought experiment with Bowling Green as the key.  Say it’s the Falcons’ year to travel to Pittsburgh, Huntsville, Tech, Niagara, Ferris, Rochester, and the Soo.

Bowling Green Travel 2018-19

Those all look like bus trips to me.


Losing Minnesota State, Alaska, and Alaska-Anchorage while adding Niagara, RIT, and Robert Morris moves the WCHA from WCHA Lite to CCHA Lite.  Better still, Bowling Green owns the rights to the name of the CCHA.  If we’re going to lose Mankato, I propose that we sell the NCHC the name WCHA and revive the CCHA name.  Half of the league’s teams have a CCHA pedigree (counting Tech’s brief presence in the league), and the CCHA is strongly associated with Michigan and Ohio, if not these schools.  Playing closer to the middle of the country may allow the W(C)CHA to get non-conference games with the schools in that area.  (Emphasis on may.)

If the WCHA loses the Alaska schools, they are on the knife edge of being able to schedule a far-flung league, even one without the long trips to the 49th.  Playing a 28-game league schedule with eight teams means that everyone travels everywhere else in a season.  The Michigan and Ohio teams have to be unenthusiastic about that.  Yes, you travel to Huntsville three years in four, but that’s better than going to Alaska three years in four and twice once every four.

If you’re interested, I’ve developed the CCHA Lite Schedule Format (PDF) of my thinking for this.  I used the template of the home / away / home & home setup of the current WCHA, substituting UAH and BSU for UAA and UAF (figuring that the schedule had worked out for the long travel), RMU for UAH (making the shorter trip for the Falcons), and NU and RIT for BSU and MSU (keeping an in-state pair of schools a bit removed from the rest of the league paired together).  I think that this works pretty well, at least for a start.

There are two pretty big IFs here, but they’re realistic, and if they come to fruition, the WCHA needs to be ready.

Aug 212016
 

These are grim days for college hockey in Alaska, as UAA and UAF hockey look to be on the chopping block in a period that UAA athletic director Keith Hackett called “very, very trying times” on Thursday.  The University of Alaska system released a report on Thursday that seeks to confront the potential complete general fund cut in athletics across the system.  The report’s options aren’t crystal clear, but I’ll give the rundown as I best understand it:

  1.  Athletics at either Fairbanks or Anchorage could have a complete cut — or both could be cut altogether.  These cuts are driven by a $50MM shortfall in the UA system that would likely cut General Fund contributions to Athletics by 50% in FY 2020 from FY 2016 levels and remove those contributions altogether by 2025.  College Hockey News reports that UAA will have to trim $1.7MM from its budget by July 2017 after already absorbing a $1MM cut last year.  UAA’s hockey operating budget is $1.9MM per Hackett, while the News Miner reports that UAF hockey costs are around $2.1MM.
  2. The UA system might approach the NCAA with a consortium model for athletics, with some sports playing in Fairbanks while others play in Anchorage.  This would allow UAF to keep skiing and rifle while UAA could keep basketball.  The issue with this is that teams would play under the Alaska banner, but students seeking to play these sports would have their academic choices limited by their sport assignment.  The two schools are 300 miles apart, so one can’t argue that playing and studying could be separated easily.  The two schools field teams in 23 sports, and the cuts would be down to “10+”, the NCAA minimum for Division II.  Ice hockey, skiing, and rifle are not sanctioned at the Division II level.
  3. Both schools would drop to Division II, ending the Division I-only programs and having all competition in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.  The expensive sports — mainly hockey — would be replaced by less-expensive ones (1/3 – 1/2 the cost) per the Alaska Dispatch News.

CkCeEkTVEAEQko4

All is not bleak:

Hackett, though clearly frustrated by the impact budget cuts handed down by the Legislature will have on athletics, was quick to say that nothing in the report is finalized and actions by the Board of Regents aren’t limited to just those options.

“Everything is on the table, but there is no decision about programs at this time,” he said.

UA President Jim Johnsen released a statement:

“There is a lot to think about here with the options presented, but I am particularly pleased that these groups have stepped up, stayed with the charge, and generated not only what I asked them to evaluate, but they have put forward some innovative ideas to realign university resources.”

Graeme Strukoff looks toward the net from the point with Doug Reid low in the slot.  (Photo credit: Chris Brightwell)

Graeme Strukoff looks toward the net from the point with Doug Reid low in the slot. (Photo credit: Chris Brightwell)

If there’s a school that understands this situation, it’s UAH.  Alabama doesn’t have the same kind of fiscal problems that the State of Alaska does, but a $25MM cut was levied for the most recent budget by the Alaska state legislature and signed by the governor.  That decision is driving these cuts, which are not limited by any means to just athletics — academic programs are on the block as well.  All of this reminds me of a lot of the rumblings that I’ve heard from Tuscaloosa about how the programs shouldn’t try to compete and that UAH should keep athletics costs down.  I don’t think that this attitude has prevailed — UAH has added lacrosse, so cost containment overall wouldn’t appear to be an issue — but dividing and conquering has always seemed to be the way of the Alabama system.

It’s also very clear that state apportionments to education have steadily dropped over the last 20 years.  I remember when I was an undergraduate at UAH (I started 19 falls ago) that UAH’s general fund was sourced around 50% from money from Montgomery; for FY 2015, it was 21.3%.  (Note, that page is a rolling entry, so if you look at this in three years, the numbers will be different.)

It’s a difficult time for public higher education.  Our three schools have high travel costs due to being geographic outliers. We nearly lost our program; it would be a tragedy if UAA and/or UAF lost theirs.  With two of the three options ending hockey for at least one campus, this is pretty grim.  I don’t really see a reading of this where neither program is lost unless the general fun cuts come from other areas.  It feels very much like one program will go down, and I honestly expect both to be axed.

Public comment on Pathways has been sparse, especially in support of athletics.  Alaskans who love hockey, get out and make your voice heard — don’t confine your frustration to the USCHO Fan Forum.

Jul 152016
 

Minnesota State announced on Wednesday that they have applied to join the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, known variously as “the National”, the “NCHC”, or the “NaCHo”, both in terms of hoping for tasty, fatty calories or regret that it’s “nacho league”.  Either way, it was a bit of a surprise unless you’re an enterprising reporter who bet that he saw it coming and sniffed around and outed the truth.  It certainly seems that everyone knew that this (leak-cum-)-announcement was coming, because both the WCHA and NCHC had prepared statements: the WCHA sounded pretty disappointed and the NCHC’s public response was, I think, responsibly tepid.  Lastly, a public records request has elicited the publication of Mankato’s letter of interest.

Both Shane Frederick of The Free Press (Mankato) and Jack Hittinger of the Bemidji Pioneer have weighed in over the last couple of days.  Shane is predictably and responsibly sanguine about the Mavericks’ chances, noting that it is a benefit for the program.  Jack is a bit more phlegmatic, and he rightly points out that there are a lot of steps left to take for everyone.

Brad Schlossmann does note that the NCHC doesn’t have to add anyone.  But count me with Drew Evans at BGSUHockey.com: the Mavs are very likely to go to the NCHC in two seasons.

But what does all of this mean for UAH?

We’re on the outside looking in, again.  UAH tried to jump to the CCHA when the CHA diaspora happened and Bemidji grabbed a hold of a Maverick tail and rode along with Omaha into the WCHA.  We all know that the CCHA told UAH no, leading to three independent seasons that very nearly killed the program.  The Chargers knocked on the WCHA’s door only after the NCHC was fully realized.

The best thing out of the Big Ten expansion mess may have been that the NCHC formed, as I think that it was far less likely that the other nine teams in the WCHA would want the Chargers’ blood on their hands than, say, the remaining eight CCHA schools who might have been okay with that number and would have been unlikely to jump at the chance to add a flight/long bus trip to a bus league that already had an Alaska problem.

Make no mistake: the 2013 mess showed us that extant league structures mean nothing when conference plates shift violently.  Will our folks be talking to people?  Sure.  But we’re at the mercy of the winds and tides here along with a number of other WCHA schools.

I’ve got a lot of thoughts about realignment options and how UAH would fit into these plans, but those are for another day.  Bring on Realignment 2016.