The Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) endured the toughest growth period of any conference in existence. A Midwestern conference of originally four teams, it did not take long for membership to be reduced to three and recognition from the WCHA and NCAA was almost a decade in coming.
Bowling Green, Ohio State, St. Louis, and Ohio University formed the conference in 1971 from the ashes of the Midwest Collegiate Hockey Association. Lake Superior joined the following year, but that quick growth was not a sign of things to come. The two Ohio schools dropped out in the conference's third season, reducing the CCHA to a bare minimum of three teams. A Division 2 was formed, with Western Michigan the best of the lot, and Western Michigan joined as a Division 1 member in 1975, along with the return of Ohio State, bringing the membership to a healthier five. Northern Michigan joined in 1977, Ferris State in 1978 as an associate member (full membership in 1979) and Miami as an associate member in 1980 (full membership in 1981). St. Louis, however, dropped varsity hockey after the 1978-79 season.
Despite the growth in the late '70s, the CCHA did not get what it wanted most: Equality in western collegiate hockey with the WCHA. In 1977 a special preliminary NCAA Tournament game began, with the CCHA champion playing a WCHA team for the right to advance to the NCAA semifinals. 1978 saw Bowling Green win this game and advance, ultimately finishing third in the tournament. Only the defection of WCHA teams gave the CCHA what it needed.
In a coup for the CCHA, Michigan State, Michigan, Notre Dame and Michigan Tech all left the WCHA in 1981 to join the more compact (geographically) CCHA. Michigan Tech also brought along the famed MacNaughton Cup, presented to the playoff champion of the CCHA. Bowling Green won the cup for the three years the CCHA had possession. That last season, 1984, saw Bowling Green win the NCAA Championship, a first for the CCHA. Illinois-Chicago joined the conference in 1982 and the CCHA reached an all-time high of twelve members, a plateau the conference did stay at for long, since Notre Dame dropped its hockey program in 1983 and Michigan Tech returned to the WCHA in 1984, taking Northern Michigan with them.
Michigan State won the second national title for the CCHA in 1986, followed by Lake Superior in 1988. Lake Superior continued its winning ways into the 90's, snaring two more championships (1992 and 1994) and finishing second once (1993). Michigan won its record eighth and ninth titles in 1996 and 1998.
Membership, however, has not remained constant. Notre Dame rejoined and Kent State joined the conference for the 1992-93 season, but Kent State discontinued its program following the 1993-94 campaign. Illinois-Chicago gave up hockey after the 1995-96 season, while Alaska-Fairbanks joined as an associate member in 1993 and became a full member in 1995-96 season. Northern Michigan defected from the WCHA to the CCHA in 1997. Nebraska-Omaha joined as the newest member in 1998 and began play in 1999, but eleven years later defected to the WCHA in the aftermath of the collapse of College Hockey America in 2010.
The announcement that Penn State was starting a Division 1 hockey program led to the long-rumored creation of a Big Ten hockey conference. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State departed the CCHA for the Big Ten, which took away the core of the CCHA. Miami quickly bolted for the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), which also attempted to lure Notre Dame to its fold. The Fighting Irish ultimately left for Hockey East and what remained of the CCHA lacked any big-name, or even big, schools. The members of this rump CCHA decided to join what remained of the WCHA after it lost five teams to the NCHC, forming a new-look ten-team WCHA along with independent Alabama-Huntsville and folding the CCHA. The final CCHA game was a special Sunday afternoon championship game in 2013, where Notre Dame took home the CCHA Tournament championship trophy for what everyone thought was the last time ever.
Dissatisfaction with the membership of the new-look WCHA ultimately led to the rebirth of the CCHA. The seven schools that were not Alabama-Huntsville or in Alaska wanted a different conference setup and informed the WCHA in 2019 that they would depart in 2021. They decided to reform the CCHA and brought in St. Thomas, new to Division 1, to be the eighth member. This created a more geographically compact conference with an even number of teams, more suited to its members' desires.
|1971-72||Conference formed by Bowling Green from the MCHA and St. Louis, Ohio State & Ohio University, all previously independent.|
Lake Superior joined from the ICHA
After the season, Ohio State left to be an independent and Ohio University stopped sponsoring hockey.
|1975-76||Western Michigan joined from CCHA Division 2 and Ohio State rejoined after being an independent.|
|1977-78||Northern Michigan joined, was an independent.|
Ferris State joined, was an associate member the prior season and an independent before that.
St. Louis stopped sponsoring hockey after the season.
|1981-82||Four teams join from the WCHA: Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech & Notre Dame.
Miami joined after having been an associate member the prior season and an independent before that.
Illinois-Chicago joined, was an independent.
Notre Dame dropped varsity hockey after the season.
|1983-84||Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan move to the WCHA after the season.|
|1992-93||Notre Dame rejoined, and Kent State joined, both were independents.|
|1993-94||Kent State, now known as Kent, which dropped hockey after the season.|
Alaska-Fairbanks joined as a full member after being an associate member the prior two seasons and an independent before that.
Illinois-Chicago dropped hockey after the season.
|1997-98||Northern Michigan move over from the WCHA.|
|1999-00||Nebraska-Omaha joined, was an independent.|
|2006-07||Alaska-Fairbanks now known as Alaska.|
|2009-10||Northern Michigan left for the WCHA after the season.|
|2012-13||Final season of the original incarnation of the CCHA. Disposition of teams:
|2021-22||First season of the resurrected conference. Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State & Northern Michigan moved over from the WCHA, St. Thomas joined from the MIAC.|