In the past couple of months, I have been prone to waking in the wee hours of the morning, whether I’ve slept well or poorly otherwise. It’s generally been in the 0300 hour, but last night, I was up a skosh before 0200, probably because I was in bed at 2000. If you had sat me down last night and told me, “Tom Anastos will have a new job today,” I would have mumbled, “Hmmm, guess the Big Ten’s hired him for their commissioner,” waited for you to go away, and then gone back to bed. Instead, Anastos will coach his alma mater, Michigan State.
For those of you who do not follow college hockey as I do, let me provide some background. Tom Anastos played his college hockey from 1981-85 at Michigan State University. After one professional season, Anastos moved to coaching. He coached at UMichigan-Dearborn from 1987-90, then for two years under the legendary Ron Mason, who coached him as a Spartan. After leaving the coaching ranks in 1992, Anastos then presided over first the North American Hockey League, the Tier II junior league in the US at the time, and then became commissioner of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 1998. The Spartans are one of 11 teams in the CCHA, but they have announced their intention to join with Michigan, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and new-to-varsity Penn State for a Big Ten-flagged hockey conference come the 2013-14 season. This announcement, months in coming, was made Monday.
In short: great player at State, short pro career, banged around in college coaching for a few years, went the administrative route for 20 years, and now will coach one of the top 20 programs in the country.
I mentioned 11 teams in the CCHA. Sports conferences typically have an even number of teams. The CCHA saw Nebraska-Omaha move to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this season. My alma mater, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, applied to fill the spot vacated by UNO, seeing as the conference we were a part of folded. Our bid was denied.
[Brief sidebar: I am the president of the UAH Blue Line Club (booster organization), and I am currently the interim Assistant Sports Information Director at UAH. The opinions expressed in this post are not those of either organization. Argue otherwise and I will cross-check the hell out of you.]
The creation of a B1G conference guts the hockey traditions of the Midwest, especially the Lower Midwest. The CCHA was seen as a top conference only when Michigan and Michigan State left the WCHA for the CCHA in 1981. Once the three name schools leave, the CCHA will consist of the following teams: Notre Dame, Miami (OH), Bowling Green State, Alaska-Fairbanks, Northern Michigan, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, and Western Michigan. Notre Dame is the school most folks know, and Miami is known nationally in football circles chiefly as Ben Roethlisberger’s alma mater. All eight of those schools have fine hockey programs, but only two of them draw any water at present: Notre Dame because it’s Notre Dame, and Miami because George Gwozdecky and then Enrico Blasi have built the Redhawks into a national-level team.
I look at Anastos’s leaving as a further delegitimization of the CCHA. If your league commissioner quits to go coach his alma mater, who happens to be leaving the conference, what does that say about the future of your conference? It’s bad enough for the CCHA that three of their four marquee schools are leaving, but to have the commissioner bail?
It would be easy to wish the CCHA teams ill will from my perch here in Huntsville. I really don’t. They deserved better than this, and I’m hopeful that they’ll find a strong advocate for their league. I’m also hopeful that they’d consider a new application for membership. UAH wants to continue to play varsity hockey, and we best fit western college hockey, and specifically the region covered by the CCHA.