Now with the Northern Michigan move to the WCHA all but official (http://www.collegehockeynews.com/news/2011/07/14_northerns_board_approv…), dominoes begin to fall into place. The next domino to fall is what Notre Dame will do. Right now, ND has 3 options:
1) Stay in the CCHA with Western, Lake St, Ferris St, BG and get either an AH team to flip or pick up Alabama-Huntsville to make a 6-team league and keep the autobid.
Pro: ND becomes lone league superpower, probably can get lots of games on CBS College Sports, guarantees almost yearly birth in the national tourney meaning they get the national exposure / credibility of a constant national presence, 4 out of 6 teams are within 3 hrs drive time of South Bend, lots of room to schedulee high profile out of conference games with big name teams on TV
Con: lesser league lowers prestige within college hockey, possible loss of revenue, no real rivalry with any remaining CCHA teams
Key question: would ND suck up their pride to be top dog in a lesser conference that would allow them to be national contender with nearly automatic road to the tourney every year? Does ND even want to be a conference cornerstone that has to carry along other members?
2) Join the NCHC and drag Western along to make an 8 team league.
Pro: exposure in possibly top college hockey conference ensures exposure within hockey circles, expands the ND brand westward, by leaving CCHA with Western probably kills CCHA and loss of CCHA autobid means one more at-large bid which probably goes to a NCHC team, small league means lots of OOC games, carry over rivalry with Miami OH and regional rivalry with Western, other teams in league don't have national resources to draw from like ND so ND becomes big dog financially in conference, almost guarantees ND will be on some cable station available on a national service like DirectTV/DishNet every game.
Con: lots of travel (Denver, Omaha, North Dakota, Minnesota), NCHC has cache among college hockey geeks but does being in a league with North Dakota/UNO/Denver U/Colorado College really increase ND's larger 'national' reputation?, first year in league possibility of being 5th best team (Minn Dul, ND, DU, Miami) and may be a struggle to get in national title contention on regular basis.
Key question: Would ND fit in a central / western CONUS centric league (Miami notwithstanding) that doesn't really match their historical demographics, university academic reputation, and would be a struggle to even be successful in every year?
3) Join Hockey East.
Pro: instant rivalry with BC and entrance into Boston market will be well received, good liklihood every game would be on TV via NESN, East coast market exposure is consistent with other ND teams' Big East membership, Hockey East has rep as premier hockey conference but ND has good chance of building cache within the conference quickly as ND name has big appeal in massachusetts catholic schools / recruiting areas
Con: travel is clustered but still not convienent as ND would conference outlier for everybody else, Hockey East competition may prevent ND from being a consistent national contender, no other rivalry in terms of similar school mission/size/academic rep outside of BC.
Key question: Does ND's other Big East like tendencies in all sports except football have enough momentum to drag ND eastward, even though travel costs and ability to be a consistent national contender are staring them in the face?
So this is the next step. ND's move will likely set the path for Western Michigan, the fate of the CCHA as a conference, the possible fate of BG / Ferris / Lake St as viable Div I hockey programs, and Ala-Huntsville's ultimate destiny as a Div I nomad. Looking at the three options above, I'd love to see ND take the bold step of becoming the cornerstone of a new CCHA that almost guarantees a dogfight each year for the #1 midwest regional seed with the new Big Ten conference champion. However, my mind says ND goes to Hockey East and Western is left with the unenviable task of keeping the CCHA together and transitioning it to a Grand Rapids centric league.