UND weighs hockey league optionsNew super conference would mesh powers of WCHA, CCHA, potentially others
UND is having formal discussions about pulling out of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and joining several other schools in creating a new power hockey league, multiple sources have told the Herald. The move would blow up two of college hockey’s major conferences and vastly change the landscape of the sport for the 2013-14 season.
By: Brad Elliott Schlossman, Grand Forks Herald
UND is having formal discussions about pulling out of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and joining several other schools in creating a new power hockey league, multiple sources have told the Herald.
The move would blow up two of college hockey’s major conferences and vastly change the landscape of the sport for the 2013-14 season.
That’s when the Big Ten Hockey Conference will form, plucking Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The possible new conference would combine remaining powers from the WCHA and CCHA.
The new league is not a done deal, but sources say that the talks have progressed beyond preliminary stages.
“Several institutions have been looking at the college hockey landscape and different possibilities that might be out there,” said UND athletic director Brian Faison, who declined to name other institutions. “At the end of the day, we have to do what’s in the best interest of UND hockey and that’s what we’re going to do. It’s an emotional decision. It’s a business decision.”
The reason for the move would be for UND to align itself with schools that have similar philosophies about their hockey programs and are willing to invest in them and create new media opportunities.
It is believed that eight teams are involved in the talks to some degree. Nebraska-Omaha, which recently dropped its football program and will put its focus on hockey, is likely one. Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts didn’t return a phone message.
Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph said his school is examining its current status.
“It’s pretty clear that the formation of the Big 10 is causing folks to look closer at alignment,” Ralph said. “We’re in the same boat. We’re really being thoughtful at how we’re looking at our league. We’ve done a tremendous amount of researching over the last three months. We’re trying to figure out what that research is telling us.”
CCHA members that fit the bill include Notre Dame, Miami and Western Michigan. League commissioner Fred Pletsch didn’t return a phone call.
Though rumors persist about a Hockey East team also being involved in the talks, league commissioner Joe Bertagna said he has “no reason to believe those reports.”
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said he’s aware of the ongoing discussion about the new conference.
Asked whether he’s concerned about losing UND and others, McLeod said: “I’m concerned about every scenario and this is not the first. I get concerned about being on top of things the best I can, trying to keep the rest of the league informed of what’s going on. It’s a moving target right now. It changes week to week. I can’t tell the individual institutions what to do.”
Perhaps the two most pivotal schools in realignment process are Notre Dame and Miami. Notre Dame also is believed to be coveted by Hockey East and the WCHA. The WCHA has shown interest in the RedHawks, too.
If both schools decide to join the WCHA, the league would likely remain intact and the new conference would be scrapped. If not, the startup league is more likely to become a reality.
“All options are out there,” Faison said. “It’s no secret that I’ve had concerns with the administrative side of the WCHA. I couldn’t speak one way or the other right now.”
McLeod, who was given the OK by WCHA member schools to seek out potential new members at the annual hockey meetings in April, said he keeps in touch with Notre Dame weekly, but is treading lightly.
“We want to try to do things the right way,” he said. “We don’t want to be part of breaking up the CCHA.”
McLeod said the WCHA has not discussed any contingency plans in the case that UND leaves to join the startup conference.
Everything could play out by the end of the summer or early this fall.
“We need to lock down where we’re going fairly soon,” Faison said. “We’re already looking at scheduling for 2013-14. We’ve got to figure out how this thing is going to play out, whether that’s the WCHA or something else.
“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that our program stays strong and competitive on a national level. Every year, our goal is to compete for a national championship. We’re going to do everything we need to do to make that happen.”
Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to email@example.com.