When Minnesota State athletic director Kevin Buisman described the landscape of college hockey as “very volatile” on Wednesday, he wasn’t kidding.
Citing unnamed sources, the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald reported on Thursday that, after much speculation, five schools will be leaving the Western Collegiate Hockey Association to form a startup conference that will begin play in the 2013-14 season.
The teams include North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha. Miami (Ohio) from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association will also be in the league, the report said, and there remains a possibility that CCHA members Notre Dame and Western Michigan could join them.
The Herald reported that an official announcement could take place Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colo., where Colorado College is based.
Buisman made is “volatile” remark when responding to reports that discussions of a possible new conference were taking place. When reached on Thursday, he was surprised to learn that reports out of Grand Forks, Duluth and Omaha, Neb., were already calling it a done deal.
“I don’t quite understand what the urgency is,” Buisman said.
With the Big Ten also starting hockey in 2013-14 and taking away Minnesota and Wisconsin, the WCHA will be left with just five teams — one shy of what is needed to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. They include: Minnesota State, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage.
Buisman reiterated that the schools “committed to a future in the WCHA” have had talks pertaining to the formation of a breakaway league — called a “Super League” by some — including a conference call on Thursday. However, he said, the latest discussion was not sparked by the Herald’s report.
“We’ve talked three times over the last two weeks,” Buisman said. “We’re sharing information and trying to stay informed. ... We’re not sitting back and not do anything. We’ve been taking this very seriously.”
Buisman said that talks have included possible contingency plans, but he wasn’t prepared to talk about what those plans might include.
WCHA spokesman Doug Spencer told The Associated Press the conference is aware of the reports but will “reserve comment” until “the league feels it is appropriate.”
Officials from the five remaining WCHA schools are expected to meet next week to discuss their future.
Minnesota State head coach Troy Jutting declined to comment on the reports.
“I don’t involve myself with speculation,” Jutting said.
North Dakota athletics director Brian Faison declined to comment, through a school spokesman. Minnesota Duluth athletics director Bob Nielson didn’t immediately return messages seeking comment.
Denver spokesman Erich Bacher said the university is exploring its options. Head coach George Gwozdecky told the Denver Post Thursday the Pioneers want to be aligned with schools of “like-minded thinking” and operations.
Gwozdecky told the newspaper Denver has been involved in realignment discussions but its intention “is to continue to be a strong partner with the other members of the WCHA while process continues.”
The WCHA won’t be the only conference depleted by the Super League. With Miami and Big Ten schools Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State out in two years and the possibility of Notre Dame and Western Michigan leaving, the CCHA also will be down to five: Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green and Alaska (Fairbanks).
There has been speculation that the remaining teams from the two conferences could merge. Alabama-Hunstville, an independent Division I program, is also in search of a conference.
The WCHA was formed in 1951 with Colorado College, Denver, Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State and Michigan Tech. Teams have been added and subtracted since then, with Minnesota State joining in 1999. Last year, Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State made it a 12-team league for the first time, and in April, Minnesota Duluth captured the league’s 37th national championship.
But with seven teams leaving in two years, the future of one of college hockey’s most storied conferences is unclear.
This story contains information from The Associated Press.