It is time for a new exemption in college hockey: If you play in a geographically diverse conference, all non-Alaska members can play one home series each season that can be exempted from the visitors’ schedule maximum.
The Alaska Exemption
College hockey fans generally know about “the Alaskan exemption” if you schedule games at either Alaska or Alaska-Anchorage, those games do not count against your 34-game maximum, and as such you can schedule 36 games against Division I opponents. For men’s ice hockey, the relevant section of the 2017-18 NCAA Division I manual is 18.104.22.168 Annual Exemptions, item (i).
(i) Hawaii or Alaska. Any games played in Hawaii or Alaska, respectively, against an active Division I member institution located in Hawaii or Alaska, by a member located outside the area in question;
which is to say that UAA and UAF can’t exempt their four games against each other.
This rule exists to maintain NCAA member school viability in far-flung locales (Puerto Rico is often included in these exemptions despite its geographic proximity to Florida). The thinking goes that a team that makes the trip to Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico can then schedule an extra home game (or weekend), allowing it to recuperate some or all of the cost of the travel. For the remote schools, it allows them to play a fuller Division I schedule without saddling them with a travel budget many times what their continental counterparts would require.
The Alaska Concentration
College hockey fans generally know that both UAA and UAF are in the same conference, which wasn’t the case as recently as five years ago, when the CCHA still existed and hated biscuits. Now the WCHA has the worst far-flung travel schedule of all of the conferences, and it’s frankly not even close. Behold:
Atlantic Hockey’s geographic midpoint is in Allegany, NY.
Atlantic Hockey Geographic Midpoint
The Big Ten’s geographic midpoint is in Climax, MI.
Big Ten Geographic Footprint
The ECAC’s geographic midpoint is in Rensselaer, NY.
ECAC Geographic Footprint
Hockey East’s geographic midpoint is Windham, NH.
Hockey East Geographic Footprint
The NCHC’s geographic midpoint is in Webb, IA.
NCHC Geographic Footprint
The WCHA’s geographic midpoint is Falcon Beach, MB.
WCHA Geographic Footprint
The Far-Flung Problem
The WCHA has all three of the longest road trips in the country: Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Huntsville. Furthermore, all four Michigan schools are far from well-traveled airports, and Bemidji State is equidistant from Winnipeg and Minneapolis. Only one WCHA member school — UAA — is served by a large airport with regularly scheduled flights capable of easily carrying a full hockey team and their gear. If you travel to most any other school via air, you’ll be riding a bus for a couple of hours at minimum to and from the airport. (Yes, this is true of Huntsville: despite being the conference’s largest metropolitan area, proximity to Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham means that HSV is pretty small.)
In theory, each non-Alaska WCHA school can exempt two games a season, and in some years, you get to exempt four. WCHA schools have had an issue getting home dates to make use of the exemption, largely nullifying the value of being in a conference with UAA and UAF. The WCHA will have 63 (up to 65) non-conference games in 2018-19, and just 25 of those are at home. The breakdown of those 25 games are: AHC (3), ASU (2), Bi7 (5), ECAC (2), HE (4), NCHC (9). Just four of those (SCSU @ UAA 2x, CC @ UAF 2x) are exemption-sourcing games.
The availability of WCHA schools to schedule two or four extra games hasn’t proved to make it easier to get home dates. Furthermore, the current constitution of the WCHA as the leftovers thrown into one western conference means that seven schools are saddled with the difficulties of traveling to three programs, costs that are difficult to offset without an incentive for schools to visit them (or to offer lucrative pay dates). For the three eastern conferences: the three AHC games are with teams in the western half of the conference (MC, RMU); the HE trips are BU and Merrimack, and the ECAC trip is Cornell to NMU, which isn’t an arduous journey. It’s telling that the two top-flight trips — BU-MSU, CU-NMU — are to teams at the top of the WCHA last season.
Simply put: Rather than a state-based solution, make it a geographic-based one.
- If you are at least 1,000 miles from your conference’s geographic center, you can award all visiting schools a one-series, two-game exemption from their schedule maximum.
- If at least half of a conference’s member schools are at least 500 miles from that conference’s geographic center, all non-Alaska schools can award one visiting school a one-series, two-game exemption from their schedule maximum.
The net effect of this proposal is as follows:
- Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville would additionally be able to enable visiting schools to exempt games as long as conference affiliations are in their current configuration.
- Atlantic Hockey and WCHA schools would become able to designate one home, non-conference series as eligible for exemption each season.
If the goal is to increase the amount of teams playing Division I sports in general, including supporting programs outside of the traditional geographic footprints of those sports, schedule exemptions are a great way to increase travel to these far-flung member schools. Adding Air Force and UAH to the list of schools that grant exemptions not only allows them to schedule more home games, but it allows members of their parent conferences to offset the costs of having a distant member in their midst. The costs of travel to these distant destinations can be offset with a home weekend, but if your program struggles to get home weekends — and AHC and WCHA schools do — this gives you another arrow in your quiver.
Let us again consider this season. Would WCHA schools be seeing just 18 games against top-four leagues, most of those between in-state teams that are long-standing foes? If you’re Ohio State, don’t you consider a two-and-two rather than a one-and-one with BG because you could pick up another three home games out of the deal? If you’re Western, don’t you try to play Ferris State every year?
Exemptions for all WCHA and AHC members allow them to get bigger schools to schedule them for games. While these two leagues are pretty widespread, the hearts of each league are near hockey hotbeds, so getting exempt games generated locally will help these schools.
As for Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville, they both benefit greatly.
Air Force would cement its place in AHC, because it moving somewhere else collapses the league into a footprint centered on Binghamton, NY, one that takes the exemption away from all of those schools. Air Force would be virtually guaranteed home games with in-state foes DU and CC every season, and it’s likely that some schools would make a Colorado trip and do single games with Air Force and either Denver or Colorado, using the exemption on the other in-Colorado game and keeping a home seris in pocket.
Alabama-Huntsville has historically struggled to get quality home opponents; its best such series came only when local boy Nic Dowd was a senior at St. Cloud and got Bob Motzko to bring him down. A full-exemption home non-conference slate would likely see the team playing 18-20 home dates a season, which would greatly help attendance and send a message that Huntsville is a home for hockey. UAH could even have seasons where its only road series were in conference play.
Atlantic Hockey members would benefit as well, as many of these schools are short bus rides away from HE, ECAC, and Bi7 schools, who would be much likelier to schedule road dates to those schools.
A Survey of the Distances of Each School to their Conference’s Geographic Midpoint
All distances courtesy of Daft Logic’s Distance Calculator. They are direct-line distances between each and do not reflect road availability or travel times.
In short, four schools (Air Force, Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska-Anchorage, and Alaska) are more than 1,000 miles from their league’s geographic midpoint, and two conferences (Atlantic Hockey, WCHA) have at least half of member schools playing at least 500 miles from the geographic center.
Atlantic Hockey (average distance 648 miles, standard deviation 333 miles)
- Air Force, 1,398 miles
- American International, 302 miles
- Army, 239 miles
- Bentley, 372 miles
- Canisius, 763 miles
- Holy Cross, 402 miles
- Mercyhurst, 825 miles
- Niagara, 769 miles
- Robert Morris, 855 miles
- RIT, 700 miles
- Sacred Heart, 507 miles
Big Ten (206, 157):
- Michigan, 82 miles
- Michigan State, 55 miles
- Minnesota, 431 miles
- Notre Dame, 61 miles
- Ohio State, 199 miles
- Penn State, 400 miles
- Wisconsin, 215 miles
ECAC (108, 52):
- Brown, 132 miles
- Clarkson, 153 miles
- Colgate, 92 miles
- Cornell, 141 miles
- Dartmouth, 104 miles
- Harvard, 136 miles
- Princeton, 165 miles
- Quinnipiac, 97 miles
- RPI, 6 miles
- St. Lawrence, 153 miles
- Union, 15 miles
- Yale, 101 miles
Hockey East (65, 59):
- Boston College, 33 miles
- Boston University, 32 miles
- Connecticut, 84 miles
- Maine, 195 miles
- Massachusetts, 69 miles
- Massachusetts-Lowell, 12 miles
- Merrimack, 11 miles
- New Hampshire, 30 miles
- Northeastern, 32 miles
- Providence, 68 miles
- Vermont, 150 miles
NCHC (398, 183):
- Colorado College, 586 miles
- Denver, 563 miles
- Miami, 584 miles
- Minnesota-Duluth, 301 miles
- Nebraska-Omaha, 126 miles
- North Dakota, 358 miles
- St. Cloud State, 185 miles
- Western Michigan, 482 miles
WCHA (877, 733):
- Alabama-Huntsville, 1125 miles
- Alaska-Anchorage, 2207 miles
- Alaska, 2138 miles
- Bemidji State, 155 miles
- Bowling Green, 804 miles
- Ferris State, 623 miles
- Lake Superior, 552 miles
- Michigan Tech, 357 miles
- Minnesota State, 387 miles
- Northern Michigan, 425 miles
What about realignment?
Discussions of the effects of this proposal on realignment (or realignment on this proposal) might be done at a later date.