Here is my column from today's Free Press. ...
You can click the link to read it, but here's the Cliff's Notes version (and a few other thoughts):
For better or for worse, the WCHA has seen itself as somewhat of a caretaker of college hockey, whether it was when it brought in Minnesota State and, later, Bemidji State, or when it helped create College Hockey America, or when it became a leader on the women's side of the sport.
The league seems to be in that mode again right now, partially out of self preservation, as it has invited the CCHA's remaining teams into the league for 2013-14 when the Big Ten and 'National' teams leave the two conferences (this was after the league already grabbed Northern Michigan and ensured that it would have at least six teams and its autobid in two years).
The new-look WCHA will look like a stripped-down version of a once-great conference, and it might be a tough sell in places like Mankato (where many folks are sounding off disgruntled about all of the sport's changes). But many around the country seem to agree that the combined remains (it's not a merger, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod says) is good for college hockey.
The WCHA hasn't always done things perfectly, and one wonder if at least the departure of the splinter NCHC teams could have been prevented in the first place once the Big Ten made its inevitable decision. Some other questions:
• Is doing what's best for college hockey also the best thing for the WCHA and its current members?
• What kind of sales pitch will the WCHA make to help keep interest high in Mankato and St. Cloud? The league is replacing big-ticket powers like Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota with Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Alaska. Or is this even necessary (remember my "Why do you watch" column)?
• Would it have been better to keep the CCHA alive, along with its autobid? When the CCHA is gone, that tournament bid will go to an at-large team, something the Big Ten and the NCHC must love.
• Why does Alabama-Hunstville continue to be allowed to twist in the wind as an independent? Should the WCHA bring the Chargers in?