Minnesota Duluth has been asked to join a discussion of a proposed seven- or eight-team Division I men’s conference, which would likely start in 2013-14, sources indicate.
The conference: UMD, North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and Miami University of Oxford, Ohio and Notre Dame of South Bend, Ind., and possibly Western Michigan of Kalamazoo, Mich., all of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
There’s talk that a resolution on a new Super League could come in July or by Labor Day. The current 12-team WCHA already has schedules for the next two seasons.
The restructuring of Division I conferences is being investigated by a number of schools in reaction to the formation of the Big Ten Conference, announced in March. Starting in 2013-14, Wisconsin and Minnesota will leave the WCHA, while Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State will leave the CCHA, and join Penn State in the six-team Big Ten Conference.
While it’s unknown who is leading the charge to form an eight-team Super Conference, Denver and North Dakota are likely candidates. While UMD athletic director Bob Nielson wouldn’t talk specifically Tuesday about a Super Conference, he said his school isn’t standing still.
â€œWe’re concerned about the college hockey landscape. We’re looking at all the options of what could happen,â€ said Nielson. â€œOur hockey program is very important to our school and we want to be proactive.
â€œOur approach is to be active and examine potential opportunities, and have conversations about the future of Division I. Our intent is to be a member of the WCHA, but we’re considering options.â€
Speculation about a Super Conference started in April and intensified last week when the Grand Forks Herald reported that North Dakota was weighing options about leaving the WCHA.
Nielson said his views mirror comments made by North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison in the Grand Forks Herald:
â€œAt the end of the day, we have to do whatâ€™s in the best interest of North Dakota hockey and thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to do. Itâ€™s an emotional decision. Itâ€™s a business decision.â€
A commitment to Division I hockey appears to be a driving concern of those involved in the Super League talks, which includes keeping a competitive recruiting edge. Improved television exposure and post-season conference playoff revenue are also elements. The WCHA has a five-year handshake agreement to continue its Final Five tournament at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
Notre Dame would appear to be a make-or-break player in the deal. Notre Dame, which lost to UMD in the 2011 NCAA semifinals, hasn’t officially said it’s leaving the CCHA, but indicated last month it has had talks with the 10-team Hockey East.
â€œItâ€™s a possibility,â€ Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson told the Bangor (Maine) Daily News about a Hockey East membership. â€œI know our athletic director and associate athletic director are doing their due diligence in looking at all of the alternatives.â€
The WCHA added two teams — Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha — in 2010-11 for a 12-team league. Even with the defection of Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Big Ten, it’s likely most WCHA coaches would first opt for a 10-team WCHA.
If a Super League is formed as speculated, the WCHA teams remaining would be Minnesota State-Mankato, St. Cloud State, Michigan Tech, Bemidji State and Alaska Anchorage.
The remaining CCHA teams would be Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alaska Fairbanks, Lake Superior state and Bowling Green.