February 11, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Leagues Continue Preparations for New World Order

CHN Staff Report

College hockey's landscape will completely change in 2013-14, with the addition of two new conferences, born from plucking members from two existing conferences, and whose leftovers will essentially merge with each other. This has all been well-chronicled over the past year and a half. More changes could still come.

It's created the odd situation of having athletic directors from these various new configurations meeting while the teams are still members of the existing configurations.

The nine members of what will be the new-look WCHA met recently to discuss scheduling and the possibility of adding a 10th team. The group also formed three sub-committees.

Despite the changes, the WCHA will continue to play the largest amount of league games of any conference, 28.

The biggest challenge to a schedule, however, will be determining how having both Alaska schools in the same conference will work. According to the Fairbanks Daily Miner, a plan is being considered where each team would only need to come to Alaska to play both teams once every five years, or possibly twice in five years.

"They're going to come up to Anchorage in the first semester and Fairbanks in the second semester, or vice versa," Karr told the paper.

Meanwhile, the league has stated a strong preference to go to 10 teams, just as Hockey East — which grew by one when Notre Dame, orphaned by the CCHA, decided to commit to joining in 2013 — is looking to get to 12. Having an even number helps with a number of scheduling challenges, particularly in a sport where most games are played on the weekends only.

The most likely 10th team, if they were laying odds in Vegas, is Minnesota State-Moorhead, a Division II institution. The school announced a fund-raising drive earlier this season, with the goal of starting a program. And a study was done that said the Fargo-Moorhead area could support a D-I hockey team. Moorhead is believed to be close to its goal, and perhaps close to making an announcement.

Other possibilities include Iowa State, which is currently considered to be the most likely of the large D-I school to start a program. It's not imminent, but it is possible.

Of course, Alabama-Huntsville is another option, although there has been reluctance so far to adding them, which caused the school to drop the program at one point, only to reverse its decision weeks later. UAH is the only independent D-I hockey school and has fallen on hard times on the ice since its conference — College Hockey America — disbanded.

Meanwhile, the Big Ten is making decisions on its future, particularly in regards to its postseason tournament. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the conference is close to finalizing a plan to have its tournament at neutral site, mostly like the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, which is currently home to the WCHA's Final Five.

In a plan approved last spring, the league was set to have all postseason games at campus sites. But Wisconsin and Ohio State, in particularly, were facing potential scheduling conflicts with various high school events. There were supposed to be best-of-3 first-round series, but that will change to having all games played on one weekend.

Finally, the NCHC, the other new conference that will begin in 2013 with eight teams, recently decided on a 24-game conference schedule. The details of that will be determined, but presumably teams will be split into blocks of four; teams within the same block playing each other four times per season, and playing the four teams in the other block three times each.

In announcing the plan for its inaugural campaign, commissioner Jim Scherr said the mix was the "result of considerable analysis and discussion among the athletic directors and coaches from the (conference's) member institutions."

"The representatives from our eight programs came to the conclusion that a 24-game conference schedule is the most desirable," said Scherr. "We believe that the strength of the conference along with the allowance for 10 non-conference games against a combination of traditional rivals and other top programs from around the country will provide the best opportunity to have a maximum number of our teams qualifying for the NCAA Tournament and playing for the national championship every year."

The idea, also, is to balance the schedule with 12 league games in each half of the season.

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