In a decision that had been discussed for months, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) will officially be opening the 2020-2021 season in a ‘bubble,’ similar to the ones that the NHL employed for its postseason in Toronto and Edmonton, according to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. Grand Forks, North Dakota and Omaha, Nebraska, homes of the North Dakota Fighting Hawks and Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, respectively, have emerged as frontrunners to host the weeks-long event. The bubble/hub would take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas while campuses are already closed and school is out.
The NCHC is planning to start the season in a hub. Grand Forks and Omaha are emerging as the frontrunners to host the hub. More from the Herald: https://t.co/CjxljNOLYR
— Brad Elliott Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) October 12, 2020
Over the past few months, NCHC members had been discussing options on how to play the 2020-2021 season in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic with no vaccine in the offing. Given the overwhelming success, both on the ice and off of it with zero positive COVID tests, of the NHL’s bubbles – the Eastern Conference played its postseason in Toronto while the West played theirs in Edmonton before the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final were played in Edmonton – a similar bubble became the favorite idea among member athletic directors.
While most of the details still need to be ironed out, Grand Forks and Omaha very quickly emerged as the most logical locations for the bubble. Suitable hockey facilities (i.e., enough accessible sheets of ice for games and practices), hotel accommodations, dining options, ease of travel, and, most importantly, accessible medical facilities and virus testing abilities are among the key criteria for selecting the host. Grand Forks and Omaha checked the most boxes among all of the potential NCHC host cities and, at least for now, Omaha likely has the edge due to its medical facilities and access to rapid testing – the University of Nebraska Medical Center is located in Omaha. Add the fact that Grand Forks and North Dakota are current hotbeds for the spread of the virus and Omaha seems like a no-brainer of a host.
Omaha can also be a bus ride for the other seven teams, league wants to avoid flights this year for cost and safety reasons.
City of Omaha and Nebraska also have a better handle on pandemic than Grand Forks and the state of North Dakota, which are both major hot spots. 2/3
— Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) October 12, 2020
The prevailing thought, according to Schlossman, is that teams would be able to knock out 10 games in the three-week span of the bubble with games played both on weekends and weekdays. Teams would then return to campus and play out the remaining schedule on campuses starting in January. 10 games in the bubble would amount to a bit less than half of a normal conference slate of 24 games which would allow for much more flexibility to play the remaining portion of the conference schedule between January and March. In other words, given a likely continued spread of the virus, planning for seven more weekends of hockey over the course of the final two-and-a-half to three months which amounts to about 10-12 total weekends) of the season would provide the necessary scheduling infrastructure for schedule changes (looking at you, NFL).
Among the remaining details that still need to be ironed out is the sheer cost of hosting such a bubble. The costs for the NHL were extremely high and the costs to the NBA for its own bubble in Orlando were astronomical, comparatively speaking. The NCHC, by contrast, is operating essentially on a shoestring budget for this event. While the conference has operated at a surplus in each of its first six seasons (it’s expected that FY 2020 will be its first year operating at a deficit with the pandemic and all), undertaking a massive effort such as this one will undoubtedly exhaust most, if not all of the conference’s reserves and then some.
All of this is to say that there are still many hurdles that the NCHC still needs to clear before officially announcing the final decision on which city will host the hub concept. That said, it is all but assured that one way or another, the conference will be employing some form of a bubble to start the season in late November and early December. So for fans that need their Denver Hockey fix, be sure to subscribe to NCHC.tv and keep an eye on this situation as it continues to evolve. We will continue to keep you posted here at LetsGoDU on news related to the bubble as it breaks as well.
Photo of Omaha’s Baxter Arena courtesy of the University of Nebraska-Omaha