After one more year as we know it in 2012-13, the NCAA men’s hockey landscape will undergo one of the most shifting transformations since Pangaea broke apart.
Effective in the autumn of 2013, both the CCHA and WCHA will lose various programs to the new Big Ten hockey league and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Most of the remaining teams plan to join one another and carry on under the WCHA banner.
As of this moment, there will be eight teams in the NCHC when it begins operation in 2013-14, at which point the WCHA will slim down from 12 to nine member schools.
Comparatively lighter shuffles will soon occur on the east coast, impacting both Hockey East and the less prestigious Atlantic Hockey Association.
The AHA, NCHC and WCHA, in particular, could likely all get along with little trouble after the Division I pool is fully resurfaced. Nonetheless, all existing conferences other than the Big Ten―whose membership requirements are rather rigid―would have more assuring stability if they can reach an even 10 or 12 teams apiece.
The best way to grow the leagues and grow the game is to encourage at least one or two more schools to upgrade from club to varsity hockey and/or realign the leagues once more.
Based primarily on their prestige in other sports and support for the game in their surrounding areas, the following five institutions could each improve or enhance an existing or upcoming conference if they pursued Division I hockey.
No telling if it will ever happen for any of these places, but we can dream.