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Minn. St., Bemidji St., WCHA involved in potential college hockey shake-up

Minn. St., Bemidji St., WCHA involved in potential college hockey shake-up

Updated: June 28, 2019 08:52 PM

Seven of the ten member schools in college hockey's WCHA conference are exploring the formation of a new conference that would leave current members Alaska, Alaska-Anchorage and Alabama-Huntsville behind.

The group of seven involved in the proposal includes two Minnesota schools - Minnesota State and Bemidji State - along with Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan.

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The new conference would open play in the 2021-22 season.

Current WCHA member schools:

  • University of Alaska (Fairbanks)
  • University of Alaska-Anchorage
  • University of Alabama-Huntsville
  • Bemidji State University
  • Bowling Green State University
  • Ferris State University
  • Lake Superior State University
  • Michigan Tech
  • Minnesota State University (Mankato)
  • Northern Michigan University  

Former St Cloud State Athletic Director Morris Kurtz, now an Athletics Consultant, released a statement on behalf of the seven would-be departing schools.

The statement hinted travel to the three outlying schools in Huntsville, Alabama and Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska is the driving force behind the move.

"The group is comprised of institutions rich in history and tradition with a strong commitment to academic and athletic excellence," the release reads.

"They are like-minded in their goals and aspirations for the potential new league with a focus on improving regional alignment and the overall student-athlete experience while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint."

Kurtz most recently served as an Assistant Athletic Director at Penn State, charged with ushering their programs into Division-I college hockey.

The WCHA responded with a statement from commissioner Bill Robertson.

The statement reads, “Late this afternoon, the WCHA office received communication from several of our Men’s League institutions that they intend to explore the creation of a new Division I men’s hockey conference that would begin play in 2021-22. The institutions have indicated they intend to compete in the WCHA during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons."

“While this news is disappointing, the WCHA will work to assure that any members that do withdraw do so in accordance with WCHA Bylaws.” 

College hockey's landscape has been stable since the birth of the Big Ten hockey conference touched off massive realignment in 2014.

Prior to the Big Ten, midwestern and western college teams populated the CCHA and WCHA conferences.

The Big Ten borrowed teams from both, leaving the remaining schools to scramble for membership in the newly-formed NCHA or the revamped WCHA. 

Even prior to the announcement they might be left behind by the departing WCHA members, the future of college hockey at the two Alaska schools has been in question.  The high cost of maintaining a program - from team travel to recruiting - thousands of miles removed from the lower 48 has been an ever-present challenge in Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Losing their conference affiliation without an apparent landing spot could make an already uphill battle for college hockey in Alaska reach the point of untenability.

Alabama-Huntsville has played Division-I hockey since the 1998-99 season. They were an original member of College Hockey America conference in '99-'00.  They remained in the CHA until the realignment sparked by the Big Ten's formation 2014, when they joined the re-formed WCHA.

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Chris Long

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