WCHA scraps its “Alaska Plan” for the 2013-14 postseason

MARQUETTE – The WCHA’s “Alaska Plan” is dead.

And there was much rejoicing.

The 10 athletic directors of the 2013-14 WCHA voted Friday to scrap the league’s revamped, cost-saving playoff format that was set to take place next season, the first after college hockey shuffles the deck to introduce two new leagues and kill another.

Over the summer, ADs and presidents from the league’s then nine future members – Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green State, Minnesota State, Bemidji State, Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks – approved a nine-team playoff format that would send the No. 1 seed straight to the league semifinals.

Meanwhile, the Nanooks and Seawolves would play every year in the first round, whether they finish second and third, or eighth and ninth.

The support for that plan has now been replaced by a traditional, three-round, two-weekend, eight-team bracket that has yet to be presented or approved by the university presidents.

“I think we came up with something that is a better alternative, a more fair alternative and its something that is going to work financially,” NMU AD Forrest Karr said.

The “Alaska Plan” prevented the group of eight cash-strapped NCAA Division II schools and one Div. I institution from having to pay for up to two teams flights to the nation’s 49th state at the last minute should Anchorage or Fairbanks finish between No. 2 and 5.

Financially, the plan made sense, but from a competitive standpoint, it was considered a disaster and fuel for why six current WCHA schools and two CCHA schools broke away to form the NCHC.

According to Karr, last week the Nanooks, Seawolves and league’s newest member, Alabama-Huntsville proposed the three outlying schools subsidize a portion of the travel costs for the postseason like the do during the regular season.

That was enough for the rest of the WCHA membership to scrap the “Alaska Plan” and the deal was agreed to Friday.

“In an ideal world, we want to have a traditional playoff format, but the problem was the financial piece,” Karr said.

“The offer that Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks and Alabama-Huntsville made took the airfare portion out of the equation.”

Under the new plan approved by the ADs on Friday, the WCHA will go with an eight-team bracket in 2013-14.

The top four finishers in the regular season will host No. 5-8 in a first-round playoff series with the winners advancing to the single-elimination semifinals and finals. The bottom two finishers in the WCHA will not be a part of the postseason.

“I feel great not only about the vote today, but just the bigger picture,” Karr said. “It shows that when the league is faced with complicated issues where almost everyone has different interests, that we could work together.”

The league semifinals and finals will be played at Van Andel Arena in downstate Grand Rapids in 2014 and 2016 and at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. 2015 and 2017, though contracts between the league and venues have not been approved.

The Big Ten, which also begins play next season alongside the NCHC, will use the Xcel Energy Center in 2014 and 2016 and Joe Louis Arena, the current site of the CCHA Championship weekend, in 2015 and 2017.

The CCHA will cease to exist following the 2012-13 season.

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mattwellens