With Thursday's announcement that the Western Collegiate Hockey Association had issued an invitation to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association schools to join the WCHA, here's the transcript of a question-and-answer session with BG director of athletics Greg Christopher and BG hockey coach Chris Bergeron.
Q: What factors will most influence the decision to join the WCHA or make another move?
Greg Christopher: I think the thing we've said all along is, 'What is going to be the best fit for Bowling Green hockey?' When I say, 'Best fit,' I mean, 'Where are we going to compete for a championship?' There could be three potential options, although I'm not sure all three could materialize for us. The reality is that all three won't materialize. With this one, if we dot i's and cross t's, certainly can be positive for our program.
Q: How much do travel costs factor in the decision? And how much do they factor in recruiting?
Christopher: We've analyzed the travel costs in all three potential scenarios, and in our estimation they are incrimental -- they won't break our budget. I think [travel costs] will go up for all three. I won't say it's not a consideration, but I wouldn't call it a deciding factor by any means.
Chris Bergeron: From the recruiting standpoint, I'm really excited about potentially being in a league with so many Michigan schools. This hasn't changed: We want to be in a presence in Ohio, and we want to be a presence in Michigan and Southwest Ontario. This doesn't change that. Do we add Minnesota to that? That has yet to be seen, and it could be difficult. ... From a recruiting standpoint, having our league be a presence in Michigan was a key to me, and we seem to potentially have that."
Q: Where do things stand with the NCAA automatic tournament bid in 2013-14?
Christopher: "I'm not sure the CCHA is going to exist [that year]. There are still some chapters to unfold here; I don't think this is completely done. ... Unfortunately, I think this stopped being about what is best for college hockey some time ago. This has turned into a bit of a chess match. This isn't the first move, nor will it be the last move. ... [The WCHA and CCHA schools] have about a thousand things to talk to, and right now we're at number two [on that list]."
Q: What are the items that are at the top of that list?
Christopher: "We spent time in Chicago together, and [we talked] first to get to know one another, then about philosophy and commitment. Is everyone truly committed to Division I hockey, competing for a championship at the highest level? You have to be comfortable with that conversation before you talk about where you're going to play your championship and so forth."
Q: What sense did you get from the meeting on the commitment of the other schools?
Christopher: "I was impressed with the tone of the meeting, the positive nature of where people wanted to head. I had done some homework, but I was impressed by the people [involved]. We all shared a background of what are schools were -- institutionally, the community, and A-to-Z on hockey -- and if you look at those 11 schools on paper, their overall commitment to hockey is impressive."
Q: Is there a "minimum" number of years an entering team must remain in the league?
Christopher: "We haven't even begun to talk about that.
Q: Is there an admission fee to enter the new league?
Christopher: "That hasn't been discussed in detail. What has been discussed is, given the unique circumstances of the situation, the typical cost to enter was 1/10 of [the league's] annual budget, which [would peg the entry fee] in the area of $50-75 thousand. We have equity in the CCHA -- Bowling Green's slice of the pie -- which is over $100 thousand."
Q: Is there any kind of a buyout fee if you decide to leave the league?
Christopher: That's not something that has been discussed. Perhaps you should ask North Dakota that question.
Q: Do you have a timetable to make your decision?
Christopher: "We're going to have standing conference calls in the coming week. I'm not trying to be vague, but we still have a handfull of questions about this. Assuming those get answered, we intend to move forward within the 30-day deadline they have put out there -- and hopefully sooner than that."
Q: Is it likely that you will join the WCHA merger?
Christopher: Things are tracking in that direction. I think Chris and I are very comfortable with this new league, and we think this could be very positive for the program. [University president] Dr. [Mary Ellen] Mazey has been very supportive throughout the process. I've had short conversations with our trustees, and she has had more in-depth conversations with them, and I can say the entire institution is behind the move.
Q (to Bergeron): What has been your feeling to learn things are "tracking" towards joining the WCHA?
Bergeron: "It has been positive. I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of the coaches [who would constitute the WCHA-CCHA in 2013-14], and those guys had some questions about Bowling Green, perception-wise. We've talked -- I've talked about what I've seen the past 18 months, and where we are headed. These are perennially hockey-crazy schools, and we would be joining with some of our partners, so I think this is generally positive. It's potentially a really good option for us."
Q: To what degree do you think there has been damage to the sport of college hockey from all the moves made this summer?
Christopher: "I think history will tell us if there has been any damage. Some people [in the sport] have been great and have been above-board, and other have been a little disingenuous, and that's as far as I will go with that. When you have a sport that is played by [only] 59 institutions [in Division I], well, I don't want to use the word "fragile," but this isn't basketball where there is 300-some institutions playing.
"Everyone knew this was going to happen. If you think about the amount of time that was consumed by this, it would have been nice -- and a lot easier -- to get everyone in a room and talk through the various options rather than have it play out the way it has. You would hate to see programs that are "on the edge" a little bit, that this becomes the stake in their heart. If this gives an administration the excuse to 'shut it down,' I would hate to see it come to that.
"And I think there are some schools that would be just fine with that. They would be fine with hockey contracting to 45-50 schools -- and that would be the end of this."
Bergeron: "My reactions today is, 'It is what it is.' College hockey is a small world, and I think it has been fractured. College hockey has prided itself on its personal relationships, and I think they have been affected. Make no mistake about this: At a time where adding a team might add to college hockey, adding a team [Penn State] has fractured us to the core. It is a tight-knit group, and I think there has been some damage done to that.
"My personal feeling is this: I wish people would have given me a chance to talk about some of the perceptions that are out there about Bowling Green hockey. Twenty-four months ago I was on the other side of that fence: I didn't know what was going on here, and I didn't think about it or question it because I had another job. Now that I've been here and lived it, been around the people on and off campus who care about this sport ... nobody called me and said, 'Chris, what's going on there? As a guy who's been in the sport for 10 years, and has seen good and bad, are they doing the right things there? Are they committed to hockey? Are they going in the right direction there?' I wish I could have had a chance to answer that, because I believe in what Bowling Green is committed to. What happened before -- I wasn't here, and it really doesn't matter. We're here now, and I believe we're going in the right direction. And we didn't get much of an opportunity to tell people that."
Q: Can you talk about future schedules? Do you think Big 10 teams will come here on a regular basis?
Christopher: "I think that's yet to be seen. But that's not for Bowling Green -- that's for anyone who's not in the Big 10. I do believe hockey is trending in a direction football and basketball trended towards two or three decades ago, that I don't expect Big 10 schools to leave their buildings as much as they have in the past. The economic model in their building is too great, so I believe they will get into the "guarantee" business a little more than they have in the past. How much that affects us, we will see."
Q: Is the idea of adding Atlantic Hockey schools to the CCHA on the back burner now that the WCHA-CCHA "merger" has been announced?
A: "I think we're tracking towards [the WCHA], but I don't think the final chapter has been played out. I don't know if that final chapter does or does not affect us, but I think it has been rather public that you have some schools in Atlantic Hockey that have been public with the desire to get to 18 scholarships. Whether that comes to fruiting or not, we'll see."