What’s Next for MS-Moorhead?

      Minnesota State-Moorhead administators continue to sort out the future of Division I hockey at the school. Sunday’s Fargo (N.D.) Forum had this in-depth update:

By Eric Peterson, Fargo Forum

As Minnesota State-Moorhead tries to piece together its decision on whether or not to add Division I hockey, the variables are shifting.

“We don’t have all the answers right now,” MSUM athletic director Doug Peters said. “We’re trying to work with the information that we have, knowing that it is constantly changing. … I don’t have that crystal ball on my desk, telling me what’s going to happen.”

The Division I conference landscape in men’s hockey is one of those variables that’s hard to predict.

MSUM has set December as its decision day. If the school decides to add hockey, athletic director Doug Peters said 2011-12 would be the earliest the Dragons would be able to put a team on the ice.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association would be the preferred league if MSUM started a program.

However, the WCHA is looking at adding Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha to push its membership to an even 12 teams.

Nebraska-Omaha is a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, which has 12 teams.

If the Mavericks jumped to the WCHA, that would leave the CCHA with 11 teams. Alabama-Huntsville – which is in the soon-to-be dissolved College Hockey America – has applied for membership to the CCHA.

“We haven’t gone out and sought new members,” CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said. “We have 12 members. We are comfortable with that membership. We’re really responding to a membership submittal by Alabama-Huntsville.”

In recent weeks, MSUM officials have said the school would consider starting a program as an independent or in a league other than the WCHA.

Initially, MSUM said it would not start hockey as an independent.

Anastos said the CCHA “would be open-minded to taking a look at emerging programs,” but that doesn’t guarantee anything.

Anastos has chatted with Peters, but said that talk was about the general college hockey landscape.

“From the college hockey perspective as a whole we want to see the sport grow,” Anastos said. “Now just because I say that, doesn’t mean we’re able to accommodate every new program that is interested in playing Division I.”

When asked specifically about adding a potential startup program, Anastos said it’s difficult to give an accurate answer.

“It’s so hard to speculate because it depends on the circumstance. There are so many different variables,” Anastos said. “It’s hard to say something definitive when it’s so speculative. We have not been in a mode to go out and grow. We’re at 12 members. That’s a pretty a full conference membership. It hasn’t been on our radar.”

If MSUM started hockey, it would also have to find a conference for a women’s team. The WCHA has eight women’s teams, including Bemidji State and Ohio State who both have men’s teams in other leagues.

The CCHA doesn’t have a women’s conference.

Peters said if MSUM got to that point, he thinks the school would be able to find women’s opponents.

“I feel like we’d be able to garner some sort of conference affiliation or some sort of a scheduling agreement on the women’s side, easier than on the men’s side,” Peters said. “Those are all things that need to be worked out.”

While league affiliation is an important piece, it all starts with money.

Peters said the school is asking for five-year gifts that are restricted and contingent on MSUM adding Division I hockey. Last week, MSUM President Edna Szymanski upped the amount of startup money she wants in place to more than $10 million.

“When I start a puzzle, I usually try and go on the outside so the framework is the fundraising and that’s the priority,” Peters said. “If we aren’t able to create the money, the rest of it doesn’t matter.”