Northern Michigan and Bemidji State are two teams exploring the idea of creating a new conference to begin play for the 2021-22 season.Let’s Play Hockey photo by Mike Thill
Seven of the WCHA’s 10 men’s hockey teams have announced the exploration of a new Division I men’s hockey conference that would begin play with the 2021-22 season. The seven schools include Bemidji State, Bowling Green State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan. Left out are Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska and Alaska Anchorage.
The group is comprised of “institutions rich in history and tradition with a strong commitment to academic and athletic excellence,” according to a press release from Dr. Morris Kurtz, a longtime athletics administrator and athletics and hockey consultant. “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.
“The potential new conference is also committed to providing the best possible collegiate hockey experience for its student-athletes, fans, and all stakeholders. Finally, the group would plan to establish itself as an elite hockey conference that would have the highest standards for overall competitiveness and rigorous non-conference scheduling, along with a level of institutional investment that demonstrates significant commitment to their hockey programs and facilities, while also establishing relationships with corporate partners and others that create a high degree of visibility and positive media exposure for the league.”
Each school has also submitted a formal letter of notice to the WCHA conference office, initiating the withdrawal process in accordance with WCHA articles of incorporation and bylaws.
All seven teams will continue to play in the WCHA during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.
“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,” said WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson in a statement. “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.”
On June 31, Alaska Fairbanks chancellor Dan White released a statement.
“On June 28, the University of Alaska Fairbanks learned that seven members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced plans to withdraw from the WCHA,” said White. “UAF was not notified in advance of this decision nor were we alerted to the preparation of such action. There are significant financial penalties for leaving the WCHA without advance notice. As such, each departing member has given two years’ notice. We will continue to play WCHA hockey with the same teams for the next two years.
“While the current configuration has had its advantages, UAF, the University of Alaska Anchorage and the University of Alabama Huntsville have been financially disadvantaged in this conference, and a realignment may benefit all three universities in the long run. We are encouraged that there are a number of teams looking now, or will be looking soon, to join an NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey conference. While disappointed, in our WCHA colleagues’ decision to leave, we look forward to the chance that lies ahead for building new partnerships.”
On July 1, Alabama Huntsville interim director of athletics Dr. Cade Smith issued a statement.
“This news came without warning. The departing members have given their notice that they intend to leave the conference following the 2020-21 season. We will always be grateful to the WCHA for giving us a home in the conference. We fully understand the value of a competitive league, and we are hopeful that we will continue to be a part of the WCHA moving forward.
“We are committed to doing everything we can to build upon our tradition, and we look forward to continuing our quest of being the best we can be in all of our athletic programs. We are committed to hockey, and we want to do what it takes to give our program what it needs to be successful.
“While we are disappointed in this news, we look forward to the next phase and the possibilities that exist for the future of UAH hockey.”