ST. PAUL, Minn. - The Big Ten's looming arrival into college hockey has created concern how its adding the sport will impact the ability of smaller schools to maintain viable programs.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association will lose two marquee teams in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and traditional powers Michigan and Michigan State along with Ohio State will leave the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
Consider this year's Frozen Four field a statement by both leagues that they're strong enough to survive without them, despite the pending loss of major revenue-generating programs.
"I think college hockey will be fine," said Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin, whose team faces Notre Dame in one semifinal today. North Dakota plays Michigan in the other WCHA-CCHA matchup in the evening, with the winners advancing to the NCAA championship game on Saturday night.
"We're obviously a little biased with our league," Sandelin said, "but I think when I look at college hockey I look at the parity. I think that's really narrowed. We always used to call them the monsters."
Smaller programs like Bemidji State and Rochester Institute of Technology have advanced to the national semifinals in recent years, proving part of Sandelin's point. There's a fear, though, that unless teams like UMD can continue to play in-state rival Minnesota on a regular basis and Lake Superior State can do the same against Michigan once the Big Ten starts in 2013-14, some of the so-called little guys will struggle to survive without those ticket-sellers on their annual schedule.
Both the WCHA and the CCHA are working on such arrangements with their soon-to-depart Big Ten foes, but there's no guarantee every school will get their wish.
"It can't just be a short-term thing, maybe one or two times that Michigan goes to Lake Superior or Northern Michigan," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said Wednesday, adding, "those programs survive on those rivalries. Fans look forward to those rivalries."
Long-time Michigan coach Red Berenson said it was too soon to discuss his hopes or fears for the change.
"There are a lot of details to be worked out. I hope it's good for college hockey, and I hope the Big Ten is a success, but it's still two years away," he said.