Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Re-realignment begins?

Several media outlets on Tuesday reported that Notre Dame will be leaving Hockey East and joining the Big Ten for hockey in 2017, perhaps starting another seismic shift in conference realignment. Many folks have been predicting more changes coming down the road, but, other than Arizona State making a decision on where it was going to play, I'm not sure people expected it to start happening this quickly.

Now there's speculation about another team, perhaps Arizona State, also joining the Big Ten, so it can be an eight-team conference, and the Sun Devils' coach says the school is close to making a decision.

Geographically, Notre Dame's move makes sense, as it practically sits smack-dab in the middle of Big Ten hockey country, with Minnesota and Wisconsin to the west, Michigan State and Michigan to the north and Ohio State and Penn State to the east. The Irish should improve the competitive balance of the league, too.

Prior to the last round of realignment, Notre Dame was kind of the X-factor. After it was announced that the Big Ten was starting a hockey league, the WCHA had given then-commissioner Bruce McLeod to talk to Notre Dame about leaving the CCHA for the WCHA. At the same time, plans for the NCHC were quietly under way. The Big Ten didn't have precedent for pulling in an affiliate member at the time (although has since brought aboard Johns Hopkins lacrosse).

Notre Dame seemed to be and should have been the big get for the NCHC, but the upstart group ironically decided to turn down the Irish because they would be coming in with their own TV contract. That's when the NCHC went after St. Cloud State. Notre Dame didn't want to be part of the leftovers in the WCHA, so it went to Hockey East, and we have the current college hockey setup.

What domino rally takes place after Notre Dame makes the move to the Big Ten official indeed will be interesting. Hockey East might be looking for a new 12th member, so there could be some shuffling out east, and there continue to be rumblings about the stability of the NCHC and WCHA in their current states.

Could the addition of Notre Dame (and Arizona State?) to the Big Ten also foul up any hopes of a single-city, multi-tournament conference championship weekend, which the WCHA is starting to shop? Perhaps.

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