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Should the ECHL and the NECHL Merge?

As I posted several days ago, Robert Morris is leaving the ECHL to join the ESCHL. Stephen Racki at American College Hockey has stated he believes the prudent move for the ECHL would be to merge with the NECHL. Both leagues are losing at least one team this season (NECHL is losing Penn State Berks). Geographically (outside of Rutgers) the move makes sense:

View ECHL / NECHL MAP in a larger map2010-2011 ECHL Schools in Blue, Robert Morris in Red (leaving ECHL after this season), NEHCL in Purple, and Penn State Berks (leaving NECHL after this season) in Yellow

But outside of geography the real logic behind a merger would be to help create a stronger conference. Robert Morris leaving the ECHL leaves only one team currently ranked (Buffalo at #24). Aside from Buffalo the ECHL has strength in Canton and Niagara but after those squads the league is perceived as being pretty weak.

Having Buffalo, Niagara, and Canton have to suit up to play RIT (2-17), Rochester (4-9), MercyHurst (5-15), and Syracuse (5-13) would make it very difficult for the teams to establish themselves in post season polls. This is part of the reason that Robert Morris is leaving for a stronger conference.

Part of the challenge in doing this is the fact that the two leagues, merged, would make a single league of 14 teams. While the league would have several stronger programs (Buffalo, Rutgers, Niagara, Canton, Cornell, Cortland, Binghamton, and Oswego) it would still have five or six pretty weak teams.

The solution (at least according to Racki) is to split off the stronger programs from the weaker into a division one and division two branch. This could be very ugly unlike scholarship athletics there are few, if any measurements to 'force' teams to a lower level at the disposal of the ACHA.

I asked Associate UB Coach Sal Valvo for his thoughts on this and he seemed to believe the prospect of teams 'voluntarily' jumping down to DII was rather unlikely. Coach Valvo also pointed out that much of the noise regarding this is the desire to eliminate one auto bid.

Right now I see no real reason for a whole sale merger. The only situation under which such something like this should happen is if the weaker teams are all forced down to DII (not likely) or if the 'power teams' from each conference decide to merge into a new conference (letting the weaker teams figure out their own fate).

As it stands the ECHL is still larger than a couple of other conferences and being a small conference has some advantages. Teams like Buffalo can focus on games against strong teams from other conference rather than plugging their schedule full with conference games.