While the college hockey season is well underway, focus for many remains off the ice as the conference carousel continues to swirl round and round.
Since, what I am dubbing the "B1G Announcement" by the Big Ten last March, we have seen new conferences form and others diminish. First, here's the shakedown as it currently stands:
University of Minnesota
University of Wisconsin
University of Michigan
Michigan State University
Ohio State University
Penn State University
Western Collegiate Hockey Association
Bemidji State University
University of Alaska-Anchorage
Lake Superior University
National Collegiate Hockey Conference
University of Denver
University of North Dakota
University of Minnesota-Duluth
St. Cloud State University
University of Nebraska-Omaha
Western Michigan University
University of Miami-Ohio
Hockey East took in University of Notre Dame and the new realignment of course leaves the Central Collegiate Hockey Association dismembered and Alabama-Huntsville singing "No Home Alabama" while they wait for a hand to reach out.
So what does it all mean?
The conference shakeups may not have been a direct Yahtzee or even a Large Straight but--in my humble opinion-- it can definitely benefit the sport of hockey as a whole. Now hear me out. Even as a devout WCHA fan myself, I do see good coming from the "B1G Shakeup".
1. More Exposure For College Hockey As A Whole: Let's be honest, the Big Ten IS a big named conference regardless of what sport you're talking about. To associate a conference like that with college hockey will give-way to what I expect to be huge hockey coverage--or at least bigger than what is currently offered. The Big Ten Network has already done a great job of covering Big Ten match-ups throughout the year, but now imagine that competition and coverage for an entire season. It's something that should definitely get teams pumped up, especially for the schools that didn't have the strongest broadcast schedule of games before.
2. Still Room For Old Conference Rivalries: When I first heard about the Big Ten I thought there was no way in H-E-double hockey sticks I was going to support that. What about the famed rivalry of the Gophers against the Fighting Sioux? Or the clash of Minnesota when they take on the Bulldogs from the Iron Range? (I told you I was a loyal WCHAer). But the fact is the Big Ten already holds some traditional rivalries with match-ups between Minnesota-Wisconsin and Michigan-Michigan State taking center stage and more series' between them in one season. Even better, with only six teams--for now-- in the conference there is still room for teams to play those in other conferences and to maintain those big ticket sales when they come to town.
3. Room For The Sport To Grow: While I first mentioned that the exposure of college hockey is bound to increase, the same can be said about the sport itself. In our previous post (Cornhuskers Hockey?) we mention discussion that Nebraska has for an ice rink and team of their own. Why not use this chance to get other teams and locations in the mix for hockey. The University of Iowa and Illinois both have club teams currently playing in the Division I level of the ACHA--the same division that Penn State is relocating from-- as do Big 12 schools Oklahoma, Iowa State, Kansas and Missouri. The ripple effect that Penn State and the Big Ten can have on the growth of the sport is tremendous.
Of course there are always downsides to any change big or small but for now I see them as minimal. For some of the smaller schools the blow will hit a bit harder but not as catastrophic as at first thought. Schools like Bemidji, UNO, Lake Superior and so on down the line have managed to maintain stability in the fact that they were able to garner a place in a sturdy conference. They will still have a chance to play so-called "big named schools" and with good competition and all around good hockey, the loss of a few opponents like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan are only replaced by new ones.
But as always, only time will tell how ultimately the whole thing plays out when 2013 rolls around, but as the carousel continues in motion, we at B1G Ice Hockey are jumping on and ready to enjoy the ride.