This is the fourth in a series of stories from our interview with Notre Dame athletics director Jack Swarbrick on July 18.
It was announced last October that Notre Dame would join the Hockey East Association beginning with the 2013-14 season. Though conference realignment in that particular sport didn’t cause nearly as much of a stir as the moves being made in football, tough decisions still had to be made by Irish administrators.
Notre Dame athletics director praised senior associate athletics director Tom Nevala for his tireless work throughout the process, which was set in motion by the Big Ten Conference, which will begin play as its own league in 2013. Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan all called the Central Collegiate Hockey Association home, along with Notre Dame and seven other programs. The CCHA will disband after this upcoming season.
“I’m real pleased,” Swarbrick said. “I’m pleased for a couple reasons. We didn’t want to be the agent for change. You knew it was inevitable with the Big Ten Hockey Conference coming that the hockey landscape was going to redefine itself. We didn’t want to be the initiator of it; we didn’t want to be the first mover. I’m pleased that we were able to allow the dust to settle a little bit and more clearly define the options. I was very pleased with the process we ran and Tom Nevala gets a lot of credit for that.
“We had things that were important to us and we were able to communicate that to the folks we were talking to. We even explored independence as a model for hockey. We had three excellent options. We evaluated those against what our priorities were, and a major one was the media opportunity associated with it. So Hockey East was the right solution for us.”
Scheduling and managing what would have been a long idle period at the worst possible time made being independent unrealistic.
“It depends on if you’re a coach or an AD,” Swarbrick said. “It couldn’t work probably. The problem was the three weeks between the end of your regular season and the start of the NCAA Tournament — when the conference tournaments are going on. Staying sharp, playing games and making that period of time work was really difficult. There were other challenges to it, but that was the biggest. It would be tough to be idle that long.
“We thought about other exhibition-basis teams you could bring in and do something, but it just didn’t seem viable.”
After a Frozen Four run in 2010-11, the Fighting Irish faltered last winter, finishing 12-13-3 in the CCHA for a tie for eighth place with Ohio State. But there was a lot of buzz around ND’s new palatial home on the edge of campus. The Compton Family Ice Center officially opened in October to rave reviews.
“Everything about it works well,” Swarbrick said. “Eddy Street Commons is a great addition. Compton feeds off that, no pun intended. Teams go over there and get something to eat. The local economic impact of it is really something special. When you have an 80-team youth hockey tournament, that’s a lot of hotel rooms.
“The Compton Family Ice Arena is the central example of [multi-purpose use for our facilities] in terms of where we located it, building the second rink so you could do all sorts of recreational and youth programming. We’re being aggressive in bringing those opportunities to our facilities. That’s really the model we want to pursue. The more kids I can have playing tennis here, running on the track ... it’s not an economic model. It’s not a profit center. We like to be able to cover our costs for most of that stuff. What it is about is trying to use the things we do well, which is using sport as a teaching device to help young people.”