The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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February 11, 2013

WCHA's revamped format a good thing

Some people were shocked. Others snickered.

Either way, there was almost nobody who thought the playoff format unveiled by the Western Collegiate Hockey Association last summer was a good idea.

And that almost category included just a few beancounters from the universities that will make up the league starting next year.

It didn’t take long for reports to surface that the plan, which would have pitted the league’s two Alaska schools against each other in the first round regardless of their final standing, might be revisited.

On Friday, athletic directors from the 10 schools voted to scrap the so-called “Alaska Plan,” and they approved a playoff format that made sense.

Under the system, the top eight teams will make the playoffs, with the top four finishers hosting the next four in first-round series. The winners will advance to the semifinals, which will take place at a championship weekend at a neutral site that the league hopes can continue to be a signature event similar to its current Final Five weekend.

One could say that more-sensible heads prevailed. Although it sounds like money made things move in the right direction, just as it made the Alaska Plan go through in the first place.

According to Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman, Alaska Anchorage and Alaska (Fairbanks) as well as Alabama Huntsville, made financial commitments that swayed the vote to stop that silly plan before it started.

That’s right, even the schools that would have benefited from the plan — it guaranteed that one of the two Alaska schools would play in the championship tournament — didn’t want it.

“The key thing is our students and (Fairbanks’) students will get the seeding they earned,” Anchorage athletic director Steve Cobb told the Anchorage Daily News. “Plain and simple, I don’t want something we didn’t earn. I think it’s just as bad as not getting something you earned.”

While the financial concerns of the WCHA following college hockey’s great schism are very real and will require some creative solutions, one thing the league cannot do is look cheap going forward, especially when it means “competitive equity” has to take a back seat to “fiscal responsibility,” to use Buisman’s words.

It must maintain the integrity of a league that’s won 37 national championships in its history, even as most of the schools representing those titles are bolting for the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference in a few months.

Much work remains, but scrapping that half-baked Alaska idea was a wise place to start.

Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com, and follow him on Twitter @puckato.

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