Bemidji’s View

     Here’s a Wednesday story from the Bemidji Pioneer on Tuesday’s developments in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association concerning expansion:

Bemidji State won’t know its fate with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association until later this year, WCHA officials said Tuesday.

“The presentation made by BSU for membership in the WCHA was viewed most positively and very professionally done,” WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod said in a telephone news conference Tuesday afternoon.

Bemidji State officials made their pitch for WCHA membership Monday during the league’s meetings at Marco Island, Fla., where the conference call originated.

“We did not take a direct vote on BSU’s membership,” McLeod said. “Our issue at this point is not BSU and its membership. Our issue is more with the number.”

McLeod said the WCHA will extend its lifting of a moratorium on new members and will continue to seek 12 members to the 10-member premier college hockey league in the United States.

The WCHA lifted its ban earlier this year and had an open enrollment period to the end of March. Only Bemidji State applied for membership. McLeod said a 12-member league is preferred, as an 11-member WCHA would pose irreconcilable schedule conflicts.

The difference this time, however, is that the WCHA membership gave McLeod authority to aggressively seek new members, to “negotiate” for that 12th member.

“The issue for us is to get to 12,” he said. “If we didn’t care about Bemidji, if we weren’t concerned about Bemidji, we weren’t concerned about collegiate hockey and the landscape in general, we would just stay at 10.”

McLeod wouldn’t be specific about teams, but when asked if the University of Nebraska-Omaha or Northern Michigan University had been approached or had approached the WCHA, he said: “One of them.”

The membership had a lot of discussion about a timeline, he said, “but we didn’t set a specific date. What I will say is that we did set ourselves some goals … and our goals are way more toward mid-summer rather than next spring.”

Bemidji State officials appear willing to wait it out.

“The quicker the better,” said Bemidji State men’s hockey coach Tom Serratore. “Obviously it’s tough getting recruits when there’s inconsistency on what’s going to happen. But we’ve been facing this for 10 years, so what’s a few more months?”

BSU’s current league, College Hockey America, will fold after next season, leaving BSU without a conference and hoping the WCHA will accept its membership bid.

“I feel confident that the WCHA will find a 12th team and I feel very confident where we stand with the WCHA,” said Serratore, who this year coached the Beavers to the NCAA Frozen Four. “We need to be a little more patient and things are going to work out.”

BSU Athletic Director Rick Goeb said that “we are pleased with the WCHA decision. We do understand the complications that an 11-team format would create, so we respect a decision to try to move to 12. We’re very excited and pleased with the direction that we’re headed.”

Serratore said that if WCHA membership is delayed a year, Bemidji State could play a year as an independent.

“It’s not a preference for us, but we can do that,” he said. “We have the support of the college hockey body. We just have to be patient right here and let the WCHA do their thing. … This has to play out a little bit. This is the most positive feedback we’ve gotten in a while and I’m very confident we’re going to get into the WCHA.

“We just have to let this thing play out, and when it plays out, I think it’s going to have a positive impact on Bemidji and also a 12th team,” Serratore added. The possibility of an independent schedule would be for 2010-11, but Bemidji State does have a scheduling agreement for some WCHA schools for a home and away slate.

McLeod said he is under some restrictions on how he contacts potential teams, but he will be more aggressive than in the past few months.

“The direction I got from the athletic directors is that they definitely want me to be more aggressive in my pursuit, which they consider as a compatible No. 12,” McLeod said. “I still have some issues that I have to be careful, ethics issues of approaching teams in other conferences, but I think that once I get an indication from them … I think know who some of those potential candidates are … hopefully I can find a way to ethically work through the proper channels to encourage them and put some things on the table for them.”

The moratorium was lifted indefinitely “so we don’t we don’t have some specific timeline to work with,” he said. “I don’t think we’re looking at a normal membership application — there’s a little bit more of an aspect of membership negotiation.”

The WCHA has certain criteria for membership, and McLeod said the WCHA membership has allowed him to “make some adjustments in those criteria” to woo a 12th member. He wasn’t specific on what adjustments he could offer, but he did reiterate that the WCHA membership holds the final say on who joins the league.

Agreement to add a team must come from at least eight of the 10 current members.

Reporters on the conference call repeatedly asked McLeod if Minnesota State University-Moorhead’s push for WCHA membership could play a role, and he repeatedly said no.

Moorhead has no hockey team today, but in recent weeks said it would attempt to start from scratch an NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey program that would seek WCHA membership.

College officials, however, said that at least $10 million in private funds would be needed first and that no state college money would be forthcoming.

“The timeline to get a Division I hockey team up and going and having, by our criteria, played a Division I hockey schedule for a specific number of years,” McLeod said, later saying two or three years would be needed., “and the whole issue of institutional support … is certainly a concern to the WCHA.”

An institutional commitment is necessary not only to play Division I hockey but also to have a quality commitment to a quality program is needed to join a quality conference, he said.

Moorhead “is a long ways away,” McLeod said. “And they have some basic issues regarding institutional commitment and regarding the timeline. We have people from Bemidji sitting in the room with us — let me tell you, their neck is out a long, long way hoping for membership in the WCHA. They didn’t get any assurances prior to them committing to the quality Division I program they have in place right now, and certainly the quality of the building they’re putting in place right now.”

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