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Eric Peterson, Published April 11 2009

"I've seen stranger things happen": Despite $10 million hurdle, MSUM AD confident school can raise start-up funds

Minnesota State University Moorhead President Edna Szymanski needs to see the money before she allows the school to move forward with a plan to add Division I ice hockey.

She’s envisioning at least $10 million.

“I’m not going forward with it unless there is enough money in the till,” Szymanski said. “We’re not going to do it half way.”

Despite the high price tag, MSUM Athletic Director Doug Peters said Friday he thinks there’s a 50-50 chance the school will start Division I men’s and women’s hockey.

In addition to raising at least $10 million in external funds, MSUM also needs to gain conference affiliation – specifically the Western Collegiate Hockey Association – before the school would make the move. Peters is confident the school will be able to raise the needed funds.

“I believe that we have people interested that have the financial ability to fund this at the $10 million-dollar level,” Peters said at a news conference Friday at MSUM.

The school would add both men’s and women’s teams if it launched a hockey program.

“If we’re going to look at adding Division I ice hockey, you’ve got to add men’s and women’s,” Peters said. “There are just as many women out there skating around that are looking for the opportunity as men are.”

The teams would offer a combined 36 full scholarships at a total cost of around $500,000 a year. The WCHA requires its teams to offer 100 percent of the allowable scholarships for Division I hockey.

If MSUM decides to add hockey, Peters said 2010-11 would be the earliest the school would be able to take the ice under an aggressive timeline.

Szymanski stressed she wants an “iron-clad business plan” in place before she’ll approve any move.

“I know that this can be costly at times and I know that there can be pitfalls,” said Szymanski, who said she has had discussions with presidents from a number of other WCHA schools. “And, frankly, I want the support there before we go there.”

Peters said the timing is right for the move, with the WCHA mulling expansion.

Bemidji (Minn.) State University, which made it to this year’s Frozen Four, has applied for WCHA membership.

If approved, the Beavers would be the 11th team in the conference. That would likely create a need for a 12th team. MSUM will not start a hockey program without a conference.

“You don’t start an elite program without conference affiliation,” Peters said. “You have to have some sort of conference affiliation. … We will not start an independent team.”

The Urban Plains Center would be the home arena for the potential program.

UP Center officials have said they could house the MSUM teams along with high schools and the Fargo Force, the current primary tenants.

Peters said another key component would be hiring a marquee head coach to start the program.

“We have to hire a Dean Blais-caliber coach,” Peters said.

Blais was listed as the head men’s coach in the plan Peters received early last month from Metro Sports Foundation president Todd Berning and UP Center general manager Lance Johnson.

Blais is the head coach of the Force, a United States Hockey League franchise.

Peters also mentioned another well-known local hockey coach at Friday’s news conference.

“I’ll throw Dave Morinville out there,” Peters said, referring to the Moorhead High School boys hockey coach.

There are 58 Division I men’s hockey teams in the country spread across six conferences. There are 34 Division I women’s teams in four conferences with one independent.

The WCHA has eight women’s teams.

Peters said if the school ultimately starts the teams, a decision would likely be made by some time this summer.

Szymanski and Peters have said all along that no state funding would be used to support the teams. That point was made again Friday.

Peters estimated MSUM has been in contact with more than 20 potential donors. While he stressed that it’s still very early in the process, he thinks Division I hockey can happen at MSUM.

The NCAA currently has a moratorium for accepting new Division I programs. But Peters said that is set to be lifted in June 2011.

“I believe that there is a good chance of this happening,” Peters said. “And now, a lot of pieces have to fall into place, but I’ve seen stranger things happen.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blogs can be found at www.areavoices.com