WCHA is the correct choice for Northern


In the 1980s and most of the ’90s Northern had great conference rivalries with Michigan Tech, the University of Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin. Fans would pack the old Lakeview Arena for a chance to watch Northern face-off against any one of these schools in the powerhouse Western College Hockey Association (WCHA). This all came to a screeching halt in 1997 when NMU bowed to political pressure and withdrew from the WCHA in favor of their current conference (CCHA).

This past week the WCHA voted 10-0 to lift its self-placed moratorium on new teams entering the conference. Northern’s athletic department should do the team and its fans a huge favor and make an attempt at readmittance into the WCHA.

The biggest benefit that Northern gets from joining the WCHA is that the team would be competing against teams from a traditionally tougher league. In this week’s national college hockey rankings the CCHA has four of its 12 teams ranked nationally in the top 20 – Notre Dame (No. 1), Michigan (No. 8), Miami (No. 10) and Ohio State (No.14). The WCHA has six of its 10 teams ranked – Minnesota (No. 5), Denver (No. 7), North Dakota (No. 12), UM-Duluth (No. 16) and Colorado College (No. 17).

By bringing in more top-level teams, more fans will show up for the games. When more fans show up for the games the school makes more money and in turn can better fund the hockey program. Just look at attendance at the Berry Event Center whenever a school from a big name program such as Michigan or Michigan State comes to play.

The WCHA teams are also not just good on the ice; most of the schools in the WCHA have a storied hockey history and a rich tradition. Northern could fit right in with the rest of the historic teams in the WCHA.

The second benefit of joining the WCHA is that Northern would add an additional game against Michigan Tech. This would guarantee that both schools would get two home games each year. It would also make the rivalry more meaningful. It’s one thing to say you have a rivalry with a school, but in a case like this year, when both teams come in with losing records and aren’t playing for conference standing, it becomes an artificially created rivalry.

Critics of a move to the WCHA say that they would rather see Michigan hockey kept in the state. They would rather see Northern play Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan, Ferris State and Lake State. This is a valid argument. The only problem with it is this year Michigan is the only team with a winning record, and games against the other schools don’t fill the Berry up with fans.

Northern also could alleviate this problem by scheduling non-conference games against Michigan teams. Currently NMU uses four non-conference games each year playing WCHA schools (3 against Tech, 1 against UMD). Northern could instead use those games to book non-conference matchups with schools like Michigan State, Michigan and Lake Superior State. These non-conference games against former CCHA foes could become a hot ticket as fans look to see Northern face-off against a Michigan opponent.

While there is no guarantee that Northern would be readmitted to the WCHA (a school has to receive eight votes to get admitted), it has a lot to gain by being included in the stronger conference. It’s time that Northern take this possible opportunity and run with it, for the good of the program and the good of the school.