Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nanooks and the WCHA - The Saga Continues...

As promised, I have had a chance to speak with UAF AD Forrest Karr about all of these rumors floating around. Quite an enlightening experience to be truly honest. The numbers are actually quite staggering, even I was surprised.

The math has really been done on this. They've compared travel costs, breaking it down as far as average cost per mile flown. For FY08, it was $0.16/mile, for FY09, that number increased to $0.18/mile, a change of 12%. With UAF in the WCHA, with the teams physically closer to fly to, and leaving all other logistics at a constant, not changing any of the agreements with the CCHA as it exists, with UAF subsidizing 25 tickets for visiting WCHA teams, we would save $95,000 from the start. Currently, our contract with the CCHA includes ground transportation in Fairbanks, as well as hotel lodging. UAA's contract with the WCHA only requires a subsidy of 12 plane tickets to get to Anchorage, no hotel or local transportation required. Entering in a contract with the same terms UAA has now, UAF's cost savings just moved in to the $200,000 neighborhood.

Currently, the CCHA generates its revenue from the conference playoffs, as every other league does. All teams that host home playoff games on behalf of the CCHA are required to fund back 90% of the profit made off of the game (gross income - operating costs = profit * .9 = what the CCHA gets). After all of the teams pay their returns, money is taken out to fund the league office staff, etc. Here is where the interesting part is. The CCHA teams have opted to establish a capital reserve, a "rainy day" fund, if you will. Normally, the left over money from the playoff revenue is divided among the teams evenly. What is done is, after the CCHA office pays their bills and salaries, $100,000 is set aside on top of that, and put in the capital reserve fund, and the remainder is divided among the 12 CCHA teams, coming around in the ballpark of $4,000-$6,000. What did UAA get back from the WCHA then? $130,000. In case you can't do the math, that is a big, Big, BIG difference.

Why the huge gap? Ticket sales. In the CCHA, UAF had the second highest attendance for the conference playoffs, second only to Michigan. Thus submitting the second most amount of cash to the CCHA. The Carlson Center seats up to about 4,595 butts. Yost Ice Arena, where the Michigan Wolverines like to call home, can seat 6,637. As far as ticket sales are concerned, that is chump change. WCHA teams, like Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin seat up to 9,700, 11,500, and 15,237 people, which they regularly fill, or come close to it. Let's not forget though, UNO plays their hockey games in the QWest Center, which seats the most people, at 16.680, of which, they only fill about 4,000 of regularly, unless a big name team comes to town, then they will come close to half capacity...

Donald Dunlop did a great job over at the UAA Hockey Blog charting out a lot of the logistics behind why UAF would be a great asset to the WCHA. In three words: The Alaska Exemption. Teams visiting Alaska to play an Alaskan team earn an exemption from their NCAA-limited 34 game schedule. Yes, the games count towards their records and point totals, but the visiting team would essentially get a permission slip from the NCAA to host two more home games. Let's think about Wisconsin. (UPDATE: I apparently misunderstood Forrest when going over this information before. I have reformatted this overly-long explanation to reflect the accurate data. Sorry for the mix up) Currently, they only travel to Alaska in 3 out of every 4 years to play UAA. They take those six exemptions home and make big profits. 15,237 seats * $20/ticket = $304,740 * 6 games = $1,828,440 extra cash in Wisconsin's pocket every 4 years. Forrest laid out the logistics from one of the "scheduling gurus" that with UAF in the league, Wisconsin would travel to Alaska every year. The Badgers would head to Anchorage one year, and get two exemptions. Travel to Fairbanks the next year, get another two exemptions. And the 3rd year, take a long road trip and travel to Anchorage and Fairbanks, and get 4 exemptions. And then the three year cycle starts over. So now, in a 4 year span, Wisconsin can rake in up to $1,828,440. With UAF in the picture, Wisconsin could pull in $3,047,400 in the same time frame. They can buy a LOT of cheese with that money. The same goes for any other team in the WCHA, though they don't quite have the amount of seats as Wisconsin has to fill, save for Minnesota and UND.

So this is where I have to ask what the WCHA sees in UNO? Why do they seem to be so interested in them? Forrest's response, "No idea...". I second that. The only thing that I can think of is the recruiting side of things. Omaha puts you right in that fine divider between USHL and the NAHL, which opens up a lot of recruitment opportunities for the coaching staff of the WCHA that they currently don't have. Forrest said there was a CCHA conference call slated for next week where Commissioner Tom Anastos is going to bring everyone up to speed in regards to In the aforementioned post in the UAF Chancellor's Grapevine, Forrest mentioned a May 27th meeting with UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers. I asked about what took place at that meeting, which was said that the Chancellor was brought up to speed in regards to all of the finances, and was also told that we are basically we were only inside the metaphorical car, UNO is driving and will ultimately decide the stops. If they turn around and go home, its our turn to take the wheel.

Contradictory to the WCHA's official press release dated April 28th, Bemidji needs a home for the 2010-2011 season. The NCAA is withdrawing the CHA's automatic bid into the 16-team D-I hockey tournement after the upcoming season, citing the minimum requirement of having 6 teams, and have elected to fold rather than expand. With that in mind, the WCHA may be expanding sooner than they may want to.

But with all of the financial benefit to all parties involved, why are we riding the pine pony while UNO hogs all the WCHA ice time? I didn't have an answer, but Forrest Karr put it nicely. "Right now it doesn't make sense to jump into the mix as the WCHA is a long ways down the road already with UNO. The coaching staff (and I agree) would rather show loyalty to the CCHA and if for some reason a UNO-WCHA partnership does not work out, we will discuss further."

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