Q&A with NCHC Commissioner Jim Scherr
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Jim Scherr was named commissioner of the NCHC in January. Scherr spent nine years (2000-09) with the United States Olympic Committee, first as Chief of Sport Performance, then as Chief Executive Officer. Prior to that, he was the head of USA Wrestling for 10 years.
Since January, Scherr has been working on building a staff and getting the new conference ready to play in 2013-14. The NCHC was born when six teams from the CCHA and WCHA decided to break off, in the aftermath of the Big Ten formation, to form a new conference. Two more were added later.
Scherr has received praise from Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph, a member of the original search committee, for his acumen in creating a solid organization beyond what single sport conferences have typically done. "We have tightened up so much in the way we operate," Ralph said. "It's been a lot of work, but we've learned a lot in the process. Hockey is deep-seated in the way it does things, and we're breaking free from that a little bit. But we wanted to also respect what made hockey great."
CHN: You recently hired Joe Novak as Director of Hockey Operations. The other conferences have a commissioner and a head of officials, but don't have this kind of position that really is more of an equal to your position, with two different roles.
Scherr: When the athletic directors set up the conference, they envisioned a melding of the operations role and the supervisor of officials role in a Director of Hockey Operations. That allows the commissioner to focus on the business side — as well as the hockey, we're all focused on the on-ice game and the conference championships will be part of that.
CHN: You didn't have a hockey background when you were hired. How much were you familiar with it, just as a fan or interested observer?
Scherr: I did not have a lot of direct hockey experience, but in the USOC, I worked with USA Hockey and their Olympic teams and the overall program. I certainly have a lot of respect for Walter Bush and Ron DeGregorio, Art Berglund, Lou Vairo and Jimmy Johnson. There's people I know in the sport that gave me a good sense of what was involved in hockey.
CHN: Without that background, what motivated you to want to be involved in hockey?
Scherr: Well, the quality of the conference and the aspirations of the athletic directors were a big plus for me. The athletic directors have all been great to work with. They have high aspirations and want to build it the right way. Being able to start the conference from scratch and have the opportunity to be one of the best single-sport conferences in the nation was another big draw. And it's headquartered in Colorado Springs, which is a great place to live and where I call home. So that was another big draw. And the passion of the people who were directly involved in the game — the coaches, the parents, the families. It's similar to the culture and passion that people bring to the sport of wrestling.
CHN: When the conference was formed, it was formed under somewhat controversial circumstances. That was obviously before you came along, but how much awareness do you have of that? How much does that come into play for you?
Scherr: I'm a result of some of that turmoil and the college sports landscape in general. I haven't been involved in it, I haven't been focused on it. The next couple of years will be positive. College hockey has had change, and that's always difficult for some. But the resulting energy on the promotion of college hockey, the amount of games on CBS, NBC, Big Ten Network and Fox as a result of the alignment changes will be good for college hockey. And I think overall it will help strengthen the sport.
CHN: College hockey has been known for having a collegial atmosphere, by and large. There is a concern that that will go away.
Scherr: I really don't think that will change. Having been at the convention in Naples and the Frozen Four and Final Five, and getting to know the people who are in commissioner positions, the key coaches in the sport — it's a very tight-knit community that's very much a fraternity. I don't think that's going to change. Obviously the alignments will change and things will happen over the next couple years, and that will create a different dynamic. But one of the things that makes college sports fantastic is the collegial atmosphere. The bad feelings that do exist, if they do, will wash out over time when people see the positive outcomes.
CHN: But there is a concern — commissioners always have to be cognizant of doing what's best for their league, but by and large, they have always tried to keep an eye on what's best for the whole, too. Can it still be like that?
Scherr: Well, I'm looking forward to being part of the commissioners association and the fortunes of College Hockey Inc. and how that moves forward under a realigned board. The athletic directors asked me to focus on how the conference can be a part of the growth of college hockey and not just the conference. And I was hired with the hopes of the athletic directors in our conference that I would work with the other conferences to make a positive impact on the overall college game as well.
CHN: Do you have a sense of how that will manifest itself?
Scherr: I have a lot to learn. There are issues with NCAA rules and procedures of how players matriculate into college hockey, how they become eligible. There are common issues in the promotion of the sport in how we present the game on the ice, and how players comport themselves. And our conference and myself want to play a key role in helping college hockey and guide college hockey in those decisions. And the energy we bring from our office on a daily basis will help college hockey, as will the Big Ten and the resources they bring.
CHN: A couple of weeks ago, you teased people by saying two big announcements were imminent. The hiring of a Director of Hockey Ops was one, and presumably an announcement on the location of your postseason tournament is another, but that hasn't come yet.
Scherr: We're still making progress there. There's nothing to announce there. We're trying to knit together the final details now. We'll announce it some time in the next two to three weeks.
CHN: You have over a year before the league actually starts. So what are the other things still on the table for you during that time.
Scherr: We're working on branding, finalizing getting our office and headquarters set up, getting our web site and social media going. That will all happen in the next six to eight weeks. So it's all moving along.