The recent announcement that seven of the WCHA’s 10 men’s hockey teams were planning to exit the league and form their own may have offered little surprise, but it suggests a future for Minnesota State and other programs that could be a win-win.
The seven teams announced a few weeks ago they were “exploring” starting another league. A follow up story by The Free Press showed they were doing more than “exploring” and had formally started the process to pull out of the league, following WCHA protocol.
In addition to MSU, teams bolting include Bowling Green, Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Bemidji State, Lake Superior State and Ferris State. Teams that remain would be both Alaska teams in Anchorage and Fairbanks and the University of Alabama-Huntsville.
A consultant for the seven teams said the group was moving “expeditiously” to form the new league. All systems appear to be go. WCHA Commissioner Bruce Robertson said the league was “disappointed” in the teams leaving but would move forward with process for withdrawal according to league bylaws.
If the league was putting up a fuss or opposed the move, it sure didn’t show it. That makes us think the league was possibly attuned to the action and tacitly agreed it might be the best thing.
The Alaska teams downsized their budgets significantly, and the University of Alaska Anchorage went so far as to change its home venue from the city-owned Sullivan Arena to a rink on campus that does not hold the WCHA-required 2,500 people. Clearly Alaska Anchorage sees the writing on the wall as well.
The consultant for the new league, former St. Cloud State Athletic Director Morris Kurtz, described the new league as “elite” and one that would focus building rivalries within a “compact” geographic footprint. He also said the league would be unified by each school’s commitment to financially supporting facilities and the programs.
This move raises the question of the Mavericks’ application to the NCHC for membership a few years ago. That league was formed by the teams of the former WCHA that include powers like University of North Dakota, Denver, St. Cloud State and Colorado College. But it decided it would not expand at the time of the MSU application and so MSU was rebuffed.
The new league seems certain to incur some costs, and how that plays is just one of many of the questions left unanswered. We wonder if the Alaska teams and Alabama just withdrew from the league, the result of the new league would be the same but with the old WCHA structure and process.
Maybe the new league extracts more of a commitment from the schools in recruiting, facilities and coach’s salaries than the old WCHA. If the league is to be truly “elite,” it seems the financial commitment of all the schools would have to rise to the level of drawing the best talent.
These questions may be answered in the coming weeks or months. The NCHC still seemed like a more attractive option for MSU should it change its mind about expansion. But for now, it sounds like MSU is all in. Let’s hope this move is a win-win for all the WCHA teams.