The Collegian

In WCHA-RallyMe campaign, aspiration outplays alarm

Minnesota-Wisconsin Hannah Brandt Ann-Renee Desbiens
Besides continuing their must-see rivalry on the ice, WCHA commissioner Kate Million hopes Minnesota and Wisconsin can soon join their other five co-tenants for some displays of "cross-league camaraderie." (Photo by Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)

Upon studious review of the women’s WCHA-RallyMe press release, The Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum’s philosophy comes to mind.

In a Season 10 episode, as the fictitious Springfield police force cracks down on supposedly rowdy youngsters, Wiggum splurges on a PSA billboard. When one of his officers expresses misgivings about the cost, the chief responds, “Well, you gotta spend money to make money, Lou.”

That sums up the situation for commissioner Katie Million’s league, which is requesting public pledges for spending money.

The crowdfunding drive amounts to a transparent, timely and sensible bid for insurance. It also carries reminders that the league still has a dense foundation to build on.

Million has stressed in interviews with other outlets that, yes, North Dakota’s withdrawal leaves its scars. But she has continuously added that the RallyMe drive is geared toward growth. The motive is less to avoid sinking and more to swim with added force.

To that point, the campaign goes expressly beyond the emphasis at the surface on unburdening the seven individual programs. Million eyes a series of perks that the WCHA will need to sustain its supreme stature as an attractive option for future student-athletes.

The unique postgraduate scholarship is one existing entity that stands to benefit from crowdfunds. The outside chance of gaining financial aid toward one’s continuing education after playing four years in a historically hegemonic conference cannot hurt a recruiting pitch for student-athletes.

But there are also as-yet missing elements that, if enabled and enacted, would spike interest among prospective participants and patrons alike.

“We feel that the caliber of our schools and their hockey programs, on and off the ice, is a great recruiting tool for the WCHA,” Million said this week in an e-mail to Pucks and Recreation. “But we would love to get to the point where we can properly celebrate the achievements of these incredible student-athletes.”

In WCHA-RallyMe campaign, aspiration outplays alarm Halli Krzyzaniak preserving a program’s all-round picture

Halli Krzyzaniak won the most recent women’s WCHA postgraduate scholarship. Though her alma mater, North Dakota, is out of the game, the unique award will continue to go strong if the WCHA-RallyMe partnership delivers on its goals. (Photo credit: Russ Hons via UND Media Relations)

Enter a proposed postseason awards banquet, an event presently conspicuous by its absence on the WCHA docket. This is already done in the nation’s other three Division I women’s conferences on the eve of their respective tournament semifinals. But with the exception of Missouri-based Lindenwood in College Hockey America, the tenants of those Northeast leagues are generally closer to one another.

With Ohio State, in particular, the WCHA has an inherently harder time assembling representatives from all of its institutions at once. Such costs weigh down all the more when they fall on individual programs, where administrative rations vary.

Suddenly having one less member program to share the tab is a can’t-miss setback. But sufficient fan support via RallyMe would remedy that, Million hopes.

“Not only would a postseason banquet help increase the WCHA’s appeal to potential recruits,” she said, “but it would also provide a fantastic opportunity for cross-league camaraderie. We absolutely need to celebrate the student-athletes who make up the nation’s premier women’s hockey league.”

If all goes according to plan, that goodwill gala would be the eye in a hurricane of hunger for hardware. Besides preceding the Final Faceoff, it would follow a run with other RallyMe rewards, including what the press release dubs “a new legacy trophy.”

Upon reaching a fundraising ceiling of $5,000 apiece, the WCHA plans to spring for new regular-season and postseason cups. In addition, Million intends to start throwing in smaller replicas of the tournament trophy, not unlike individual NHL awards. The full-size rendering would remain on campus for as long as a given program is the reigning holder.

“Our hope is that, during those 12 months, teams would take the trophy to community events, use it for in-arena displays and other such fan-engagement activities,” Million said.

“Again, if we are successful in securing funding for one or both of these new trophies, we would budget each year to produce much smaller, replica versions that the winning teams can keep permanently for display.”

““We feel that the caliber of our schools and their hockey programs, on and off the ice, is a great recruiting tool for the WCHA. But we would love to get to the point where we can properly celebrate the achievements of these incredible student-athletes.” – Commissioner Katie Million

Such displays in a given lobby would complement the chronicles in the banners that hover over the ice. Touring the two big trophies until they are reissued would personalize and humanize the success stories behind them.

With those accomplishments and expectations in mind, more prospective supporters will be swayed. Any ensuing uptick in attendance and revenue would be an automatic gain for the league.

Persistent cynics will likely snort that those hardware shows figure to rotate between Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Wisconsin. To date, the three bigwigs have combined to win each of the women’s WCHA’s first 19 regular-season and postseason crowns.

What, then, will this do for Bemidji State, Minnesota State, OSU and St. Cloud State, who must break decades-old ice to get in on the new trophy pie and its secondary benefits?

Realistically, those four will feel a sensation closer to salvation if and when the WCHA-RallyMe funds kick in. As the Duluth News Tribune’s Matt Wellens noted in May, the Buckeyes placed third out of eight teams with a budget of $2,043,945 in 2015-16. The Beavers, Mavericks and Huskies had the least wiggle room.

But eliminating the operations bill for individual teams is the top bullet point in the press release. Targeted relief of $87,000 per school would free the perennial powerhouses, pluggers and plebeians alike.

All could subsequently ramp up their respective chases for talent, thus improving their odds of increasing game-day revenue the old-fashioned way. If nothing else, they could invest in a better chance of getting on the Ferris wheel of peaks and nadirs most middle-class programs experience.

They may also get a boost from school-specific benefactors who draw inspiration from the league’s new initiative. Then they will have more of that money to spend, all geared toward making more.

A little fear of a potential North Dakota repeat if other strapped programs are left untreated is rational. But the WCHA-RallyMe connection is hardly any different than the phone calls, e-mails and letters every college graduate gets regarding their alma mater’s annual fund. The mission is just more open than it was before.

Al Daniel

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