Kevin Pates / Forum Communications Co., Published September 14 2010
WCHA could lose Gophers and BadgersDULUTH, Minn. – After adding two teams for the 2010-11 season, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is faced with the possibility of losing two men’s programs – Minnesota and Wisconsin – to a Big Ten Conference as soon as 2014-15.
Leading to the formation of a Big Ten Conference in hockey is an upcoming announcement that Penn State is adding the varsity sport for men and women, according to a Sunday report by the website Inside College Hockey.
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod addressed the possible changes last weekend at league coaches meetings in Bloomington, Minn., said Minnesota coach Don Lucia on Monday. The WCHA will start 2010-11 with 12 teams with the addition of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha.
“The strength of the WCHA has been the commitment of member schools, and if Minnesota and Wisconsin were to leave, the league will still be a good, strong league. It will not be a drastic change,” Lucia said. “But right now this is all speculation. Will Penn State add hockey? Will the Big Ten schools want to form their own league? Will they be interested in adding affiliate members?”
Penn State of University Park, Pa., has plans to build a rink that seats 6,000 to 8,000 and costs $60 million to $80 million, according to a report last month in the Altoona (Pa.) Mirror. The school has men’s and women’s club teams that play in the 1,350-seat Penn State Ice Rink.
Inside College Hockey is reporting that Penn State could announce the addition of varsity hockey as soon as Friday.
“I can’t imagine Penn State going to the effort of adding hockey without the understanding it will be playing other Big Ten schools,” Lucia said.
For starters, a Big Ten hockey league would include WCHA members Minnesota and Wisconsin, and Central Collegiate Hockey Association members Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, for a total of six schools. That’s the number the NCAA requires for an automatic entry into the Division I playoffs.
“We’ve all heard the talk of a Big Ten Conference in hockey for the last four or five years, and it picked up more steam in the last year,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “If Penn State starts hockey, then the league looks like a good possibility.
“If that happens, the WCHA will survive. Bruce McLeod was already proactive, in a sense, by adding two teams this season.”
One notable loss for the WCHA, if Minnesota and Wisconsin defect, would be the revenue those programs provide during the league playoffs. Money from playoff games, starting with first-round campus series, is shared by all members and has been between $90,000 and $100,000 per school in recent years. If home during the first round, Wisconsin’s Kohl Center seats 15,237 and Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena 10,000. Both schools are also big draws when advancing to the WCHA Final Five at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
It’s believed the Big Ten Conference discussed a hockey conference at league meetings in August in Chicago. WCHA athletic directors are expected to address the subject in a phone conference later this month.
“If a Big Ten league does happen, we’d still be interested in scheduling teams that we’ve been playing for so many years, like UMD and St. Cloud State,” Lucia said.
Sandelin and Lucia speculated that a new conference would likely not be ready until about 2014-15. In 2010-11 there are five Division I men’s conferences – Atlantic Hockey (12 teams), Hockey East (10), CCHA (11), Eastern College Athletic Conference (12) and WCHA (12). Open spots in conferences, if Big Ten schools defect, would likely leave openings for an independent program like Alabama-Huntsville. There are 58 Division I men’s hockey schools.
Pates writes for the Duluth News Tribune