Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rehashing a Bad Idea

I’ve wanted to bring this back up for awhile, but forgot, thanks to Western College Hockey for the reminder.

Around the Frozen Four, Andy Baggot proposed a brilliant idea: the Badgers should go independent and give up their spot in the WCHA to Bemidji State. A thorough look at how dumb this idea really is was lost in the shuffle, but it is the off season, and now there is nothing but time.

Before I begin, I am in favor of Bemidji State joining the WCHA. As much as it would “water down” the WCHA (only in the short term IMO), college hockey as a whole is a small community and needs to stick together. If a team folds in DI basketball, no one even notices, but in DI hockey this is a big deal. If Bemidji and Alabama-Huntsville fold, the NCAA might also decide to reduce the size of the NCAA tourney back to 12, which would be a disaster for the WCHA, along w/ the CCHA who (if Nebraska Omaha joins the WCHA) better suck it up and add Huntsville. Ohio State and Miami (OH) wouldn’t have made a 12 team NCAA tourney last season.

On to the Badgers leaving the WCHA and going independent, are there actually any positives? Baggot surmises that w/ the clout UW has in NCAA Hockey, they would have the ability to have a schedule exactly like they want, playing contests against other top programs every season. I’ll agree that the “ability” is there, but did Baggot call BU, Miami (OH), Cornell, etc and ask them if they would be regularly “willing” to schedule UW as an “independent”?

Would minnesota use up FOUR non-conference games every season to keep the greatest rivalry in college hockey going? Very doubtful. How about every other team in the WCHA? Sure we aren’t going to want to play Michigan Tech four times as an “independent”, but what about Denver or North Dakota? At best you’ll get one series out of each of them a season. Both play pretty tough non-conference schedules currently, so UW being guaranteed two games every season (what if they don’t travel to UAA for the exemption?) is likely, but four would be unthinkable. DU and UND want to play the other powerhouses on the east coast as well. Duluth, St. Cloud, CC? All good programs now reduced on the schedule to get what in return? Robert Morris, Providence and Ferris State? Would Michigan and Michigan State be willing to play an additional game w/ UW each season? Assuming the College Hockey Showcase stays intact, I would guess yes only when it’s their turn to visit UW, and UW could make a weekend trip to Michigan later in the season.

I won’t even hazard how regularly the east coast teams would thirst to travel to Wisconsin for a series or have enough room in the schedule for UW to visit. Baggot says UW could schedule east coast teams at the Kohl Center w/ ease, really? They would be under some of the same restrictions as scheduling our current WCHA foes. They don’t have a boat load of non-conference games, many are locked into certain tournaments (holiday, early season or the Beanpot), and are the top teams like BU, BC, UNH, etc going to schedule UW every season, either home or away, and then miss out on a chance to play DU or North Dakota or Notre Lame or Michigan or minnesota because of limited non-conference games available? What about travel costs? It’s not getting cheaper to fly across the country, for UW or for top Hockey East teams.

Five of the powerhouses in college hockey (UW included w/ CC, DU, UND and u of m) are already in the WCHA! Why leave, play them less, and hope the ones out East or in the CCHA will decide to schedule the Badgers regularly?

Staying in the WCHA, two things can be guaranteed. 1) The Badgers will play the gophers FOUR times a season. 2) At least every other year (less if the WCHA does go to 12 teams) the Badgers will play North Dakota, Denver, CC, St. Cloud and Duluth FOUR times a season. Staying in the WCHA guarantees the Badgers a strong Strength of Schedule (SOS) and consistent matchups against NCAA regulars. Leaving means “hoping” everyone else decides to schedule UW enough to give them a strong SOS and matchups to impact the PWR positively. Unlike Baggot, I think UW’s best chance to sit well in the PWR is to stay in the WCHA (and not blow countless 3rd period leads).

Even though UW only gets 6 to 8 non-con games a year, they have done a good job of scheduling tough competition. Every year they play the Showcase, this season UNH visits, last season the Badgers visited BC and UNH (same next season), and there are talks of playing Notre Lame in the future. Sure the constraints of a 28 game WCHA schedule limits opponent opportunities in non-con, but I think the Badgers are doing the best they can.

What about the WCHA playoffs and Final Five? Gone, that’s what. How is this a good idea? As a fan, I enjoy the extra games at the Kohl Center in the 1st round of the playoffs, and having made the trip to St. Paul to the Final Five for the first time last season that is an event all by itself; a smaller version of the Frozen Four. Let’s take a step back and assume everyone else schedules UW as an independent, they play a hard schedule and as the regular seasons around college hockey end, the Badgers are a lock for the NCAA tourney in the PWR. What is the Badgers award? They get to sit on their ass for three weeks waiting for the NCAA tourney to start. Likely even more than three weeks because who is going to schedule UW in the final weekends of the regular season as conference championships and playoff positioning are being battled for? The rest of the NCAA contenders are still playing, staying game ready, fighting for a conference playoff championship, further growing as a team and the Badgers are sitting home, and possibly getting into trouble at the KK due to utter boredom.

As an independent, what exactly are the Badgers playing for? I understand that the MacNaughton Cup and Broadmoor Trophy are rusty old antiques comparing to winning another National Championship, but how easy would it be for a player to go through a season w/ out having anything to play for besides the NCAA tournament? Am I disillusioned to think that players don’t pour their hearts out to win the WCHA regular season, and the Final Five, and use those as a stepping stone in their chase for the NCAA tourney and championship?

Comparing UW as an independent in hockey to Notre Lame in football is like comparing wojo’s bathtub to Lake Michigan (thanks wojo for the analogy); there is no comparison! Notre Lame has been an independent for just short of ever, they have tradition as an independent, long term scheduling agreements, and a biased spot in the BCS and usually a top bowl game (before they started to suck). Wisconsin going independent in hockey comes w/ none of this (they have tradition, but none as an independent), and giving up a spot in the premier conference in college hockey to help out another school who should get in regardless, for the good of college hockey, is stupidity.

Lastly, what impact would this have on recruiting? I’m sure Baggot would (try to unsuccessfully) convince you that it would improve recruiting. I think it would hurt recruiting, and it would cascade to make this a situation that from the start would hurt the program. I think there are a lot of kids who look to play in the WCHA, especially kids from MN, and anywhere west of Lake Michigan. If I’m a recruit I would look at the things I mentioned above. Go to another WCHA school and play a WCHA schedule or hope UW can put something together equal or better. Also, beyond the NCAA tourney, what is there really to play for? No regular season crowd to play for, no conference championship. The atmosphere of the Final Five would be a much better preparation for the NCAA tourney for a freshman, than sitting around the Kohl Center practicing for three weeks. UW has GREAT hockey tradition; there are a few equals in college hockey, but no one better. How far will that, a great education, and nice facilities get UW, when other teams can trump the Badgers with a lot of the bonuses that come w/ playing in the WCHA?

Baggot asks readers to think outside the box, too bad he had his head in a box (or in the sand or somewhere else too graphic for young children) when he wrote this ridiculous article, which has no real positives for UW Men’s Hockey. Maybe Baggot wrote this as a weird pipe dream or to see what the lunatic fringe on the internet (who he doesn't follow) would say in response to his article, either way UW would have little to gain in this arrangement and everything to lose.