Bemidji Put On Hold as WCHA Pursues 12th Team
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The membership of the WCHA has put Bemidji State's bid on hold, pending an "aggressive" pursuit of a 12th team.
Bemidji State, facing a future without a home with the impending dissolution of College Hockey America, was the only school to apply for membership after the WCHA opened itself up to the possibility. School officials made a formal presentation at the WCHA league meetings Monday in Florida.
According to league commissioner Bruce McLeod, the 10-team WCHA was uncomfortable adding an 11th team at this time, without having another to go along with it — confirming reports to that effect.
"Admitting Bemidji as an 11th team, which we're obviously not comfortable doing, then hoping for the best — that's not a real good business plan," McLeod said.
Nonetheless, the WCHA has now indicated that it wants to expand and help Bemidji State. Consequently, McLeod, along with the league's structure committee, has been charged with finding a 12th team. And that 12th team would, more than likely, need to be a well-established program.
"They (the league members) definitely want me to be more aggressive in my pursuit, to find what they consider to be a compatible No. 12," McLeod said. "I have to be careful with the ethics issues, approaching teams in other conferences. ... I'm not going to talk specifically, but I think we know who some of those potential candidates are. Once I get some kind of indication from them, I hope to find a way, ethically, to encourage them and put things on the table for them."
The two schools most rumored to have possible interest in going to the WCHA are current CCHA members Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan. McLeod said one of those schools approached him with some interest, but he wouldn't say which one.
Alabama-Huntsville, which is the other program in the same boat as Bemidji State, has applied for CCHA membership, but that's considered a long shot. McLeod indicated it was also a long shot for the WCHA.
"I don't want to preclude anybody because sometimes your perception of program can be a whole lot different than reality when you get to them, and see where they're at and what they're willing to commit to," McLeod said. "But I don't think — they did apply to the CCHA — and I don't know if there's been a statement on that. But I would say, if we're setting a priority list, they're not at the top of the list."
The WCHA has a fairly strict criteria for membership, which includes things like full scholarships, and playing a full D-I schedule for at least two years. This effectively rules out the possibility of a new program, McLeod said.
In particular, Minnesota State-Moorhead has made noise about trying to move to Division I, but even its own athletic director said it couldn't do so without admittance to the WCHA. Given these opposing set of goals, the prospects of Moorhead playing D-I hockey any time soon are grim, at best.
This leaves Bemidji State in a waiting game.
Because of other contractual obligations, the earliest the WCHA would expand is 2011-12, which would, at best, leave Bemidji State without a conference for one year. The current league, College Hockey America, will dissolve after next season.
"That's not a preference for us, but we can do that," Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. "We have the support of the college hockey body. It's just something we have to be patient here — let the WCHA do its thing, because this has to play out a little bit. I'm very confident we're going to get in."
BSU athletic director Rick Goeb stayed publicly positive as well.
"We are pleased with the WCHA decision," Goeb said. "We do understand the complication an 11-team format would create, so we are sensitive trying to move to 12. But we are pleased with the direction we're headed."
Said Serratore, "It buys the WCHA more time, to be more flexible getting to 12 teams. Because they do want a clean number. So we just have to be patient, and let them do their thing."
There are, of course, other logistical issues with switching to a 12-team league — scheduling, format of the conference tournament — but all of those have solutions.
The last expansion in the WCHA occurred in 1999-2000 when Minnesota State University, Mankato joined the conference as it’s 10th team.
McLeod said that finding a 12th team would be more about "negotiation" than "application."
"I wouldn't put it in terms of incentives," McLeod said. "We do have a number of criteria, some of them involve cost of membership, when they start to benefit from the proceeds distributed at end of the year... Those are some of the things we can negotiate. Then there are some specific things with specific institutions I think that can be negotiated too."