In Tuesday's Free Press I have a column that asks this question to Minnesota State men's hockey ticket buyers: Why do you watch?
Do you watch the Mavericks or do you watch their opponent? Is it more important to see a win or to see a so-called power opponent?
The answer may have a big impact on how you feel about the future of MSU hockey once the yet-to-be-named Breakaway League and the Big Ten start play in 2013-14. As others have suggested this week, the new WCHA may end up being OK for the leftover teams, as their chances of winning conference titles and earning NCAA berths will improve.
Even if MSU becomes the best of the rest, will Mankato's hockey fans follow?
• Over the last five years, Minnesota State is 16-49-9 (.277) against teams going into the Breakaway League.
• The Mavericks are 11-18-4 (.394) against Big Ten members Minnesota and Wisconsin over the last fiv years.
• Over that same span, MSU is 33-19-9 (.615) against the rest of the WCHA — St. Cloud, Bemidji, Anchorage and Tech.
If Minnesota State can continue to bring in quality nonconference opponents (i.e.: ex-WCHA members) regularly, they might be able to draw those big crowds and help their Pairwise ranking. That's a big if, though, as all three western leagues will be seeking quality nonconference games, and I've already heard worries about the possibility of an interlocking schedule between the Big Ten and the Breakaways.
Meanwhile, here's another statistical curiosity: Miami has been one of the nation's best teams over their last several years, and its desire to leave the CCHA makes some sense with that conference's Big Ten losses. But why is that school more attractive to the Breakaways than the current WCHA programs? The RedHawks play in a new arena, albiet one that seats just 3,600 people.
Last year, Miami drew an average of 3,024 per game. Minnesota State in a down year drew 3,711. (In 2008-09, MSU had an all-time high of 4,552, ranking 15th in the nation; Miami was 32nd that year with 2,491.)
Lets look at some college hockey average attendance figures from last year (ranking is overall national place):
1. Wisconsin 13,226
2. Michigan 12,291
4. Minnesota 9,544
11. Michigan State 5,353
18. Ohio State 3,829
3. North Dakota 11,756
5. Nebraska-Omaha 7,994
6. Colorado College 6,687
9. Minnesota Duluth 5,810
12. Denver 5,292
25. Miami 3,024
8. St. Cloud State 5,935
17. Bemidji State 3,876
19. Minnesota State 3,711
22. Alaska-Anchorage 3,319
36. Michigan Tech 2,345
26. Alaska 2,954 (possibly going to WCHA)
27. Western Michigan 2,926 (waiting for Notre Dame's move)
29. Notre Dame 2,801 (courted by Hockey East, Breakaways)
32. Northern Michigan 2,541 (possibly going to WCHA)
39. Bowling Green 2,169
40. Lake Superior 2,103
44. Ferris State 1,734