One thing that has gnawed at the Bus League Hockey staff over the past couple weeks is that as the season has wound down, it has been insanely quiet on the SPHL expansion rumor front.
Aside from the information that they were still hoping to get back the Columbus, GA market (more on this in a bit), there has been NOTHING since the rumor that the league was eyeing Iowa City…and that was quickly quashed because as we noted in that article, the rink in Iowa City will not be ready until 2020.
While those were the most concrete things we had learned, there were also murmurs about the RiverKings possibly coming back and the league maybe making a return to Biloxi, but those rumors quickly went nowhere, and there has been little else since then on either of those cities.
Meanwhile, the FHL (more on them later this week) has been awash in expansion rumors, with it appearing that Danbury is set to come back at any moment, that they have the lead in Columbus, and that they are continuing to work on an east coast team, all while it appears that all six of their teams will be back next season.
Well, it turns out our wondering was not in the wrong, because the BLH staff received note that no expansion for the 2019-20 SPHL season may in fact be the plan going forward, which could make for a very quiet off-season.
“No SPHL expansion heading into 2019-20,” the source said. “It’s becoming more likely the FHL has staked the claim at the Columbus Civic Center, making it unlikely there will be any new teams for next season.”
Now, it’s worth keeping in mind that the FHL to Columbus has not been officially finalized or confirmed by either the league or arena, and things often change in a hurry at this level, but it does appear that the FHL is set and planning to get the market, barring something crazy.
And really, no expansion for the 2019-20 season makes a lot of sense as the path forward, because there was no chance of Iowa City happening this year, and if the league is in fact unable to re-acquire the Columbus markets, what new markets are available and ready for hockey in the fall? Or why would the league try to go back to an old market where the fan-bases dwindled and the team may not last more than a couple of years?
The other thing to keep in mind in all this: While everyone always wants leagues to expand and add new teams, the SPHL is in the rare position where it by no means NEEDS to add more teams at the moment. They’re not in a spot like the FHL where almost every year it seems like 2-3 teams fold and they need to be replaced so they have the minimum six teams needed for import players.
Sure, we all want and hope all for expansion to see new (or old) cities get teams within these leagues so there is more to talk about and more to cover, but there is also nothing wrong with standing pat and avoiding expanding just for the sake of expanding.
It’s also worth noting here that are currently no teams in the SPHL that appear to be on the chopping block or going away this off-season. Sources in the SPHL have confirmed to us that all three of the bottom teams that everyone talks about, Macon, Fayetteville, and Evansville, WILL be back next season, keeping the league at the same 10 teams they played with this past regular season. So why not give it at least another season with the 10 teams you have, and work to see if those teams can improve their standing?
We know that no expansion is not what a lot of fans want to hear, especially if they were one of the rumored markets, but again, it’s not at all the end of the world, or even a problem for the SPHL if they don’t end up adding any teams.