Plans for a Big Ten hockey conference beginning in the 2013-14 season were announced Monday.
The move will turn the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Bemidji State’s conference, into a 10-team league with the departure of Minnesota and Wisconsin to the Big Ten. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and new program Penn State also will help form the new Big Ten.
“We were all prepared for it,” Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore said. “We all knew it was going to happen when Penn State announced they were going to have a varsity program. I think it can be a positive thing for hockey if more schools can come on board because the Big Ten is going to be a very high-profile league.”
There are questions about what the long-term future of college hockey will look like with the addition of the Big Ten. The Central Collegiate Hockey Association will lose its marquee programs in Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
Right now the WCHA is on stable ground in part to the longevity of the league and the additions of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha last season. A new era will come to the league with the departure of Minnesota and Wisconsin, which are steeped in decades of WCHA tradition and draw large fan bases.
“From a WCHA standpoint it is tough to lose two high-profile teams, there’s no question about it,” Serratore said. “Those two programs brought a lot of visibility to the WCHA and it’s going to be tough to see them leave.”
Minnesota was a charter member of the WCHA in 1951-52, then the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League, and Wisconsin joined the WCHA in the 1969-70 season.
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said he anticipated the formation of a Big Ten Conference and acknowledged it will impact the WCHA.
“But change creates opportunity, too,” McLeod said in a press release issued by the league. “The timeline of this association spans seven decades and has included expansion and contraction on numerous occasions, but the success of this organization has remained constant. The commitment to excellence by our member institutions will not waver and working together we will push forward to assure our future remains bright.”
There are existing rivalries threatened with the formation of the Big Ten, but Minnesota Athletic Director Joel Maturi and the Big Ten said it will continue to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference games with the WCHA and CCHA.
“We would depart with fond memories, and the sincere belief that many of the great WCHA rivalries that the Gophers have been a part of will continue through non-conference play,” Maturi said in a press release.
The current intention is not a guarantee as of yet for the WCHA and CCHA programs. The Big Ten schedule calls for 20 league games and leaves 14 games open for non-conference play.
Will Minnesota play at the Sanford Center again? Right now the answer is yes.
McLeod told the Star Tribune of Minneapolis there is a verbal agreement on an interlocking schedule with Wisconsin and Minnesota playing all 10 remaining WCHA teams.
“There are things that are out of your control and you can’t worry about things that are out of your control,” Serratore said. “For us (BSU) it’s going to be business as usual.”
Serratore expects the competition for college hockey prospects to remain the same with the existence of the Big Ten. Each fully funded NCAA Divsion I hockey team has a maximum of 18 scholarships, so drawing a blue-chip player ultimately comes down to each program’s recruiting efforts, facilities and a player’s personal choice.
“Those kids were going to go to those schools anyway (Minnesota, Wisconsin),” Serratore said. “I think we have 10 strong members in this league and we are still going to be a very strong league.”
All kinds of questions
There are a number of questions raised with the Big Ten conference and what it will mean for the landscape of college hockey. I could go all over them here, but Shane Frederick of the Mankato Free Press discusses all of those questions raised in a comprehensive blog post here.
Here’s the view North Dakota beat writer Brad Schlossman, who also discusses the questions raised.
One specific question being asked: What will the WCHA’s scheduling relationship be with the Big Ten? Gopher beat writer Roman Augustoviz at the Star Tribune says the WCHA wants a rotating schedule with the Big Ten and not cherry picking, which would mean future Bemidji State games against the Gophers.
Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais remained consistent with his position against a Big Ten Conference and voiced his opposition in a story from the Associated Press Monday. Here’s the view from Omaha via UNO beat writer Chad Purcell. One question there: Will Nebraska add hockey down the road and join the Big Ten? Right now the answer is no.
What will happen to the WCHA and CCHA? The Detroit Free Press explores that question from the view of the small CCHA schools.
Rumors and speculation are certain to abound over the next year or so about possible conference realignments in the wake of the Big Ten announcement. Will it happen? College Hockey News columnist Adam Wodon says only time will tell.
Want my view of the Big Ten conference? I’ve spent the last few days asking myself that question.
Despite all the questions raised over the last few days, I’m not ready to dive into rumors or speculation. The world isn’t coming to an end.
I agree with BSU head coach Tom Serratore and the reactions from other administrators from college hockey schools: the Big Ten is good for the sport if it means adding more programs to the college hockey pool.
If any programs are lost in the coming years, the Big Ten venture will have been a bad – really bad – idea.
I want the Big Ten to be about growing the college game, not about making more money for the Big Ten network. Shaking up what has worked for years to fill a programming slot is a disturbing thought to me. But I understand the realities of modern college sports and television revenue drives decisions for school administrators. They’re looking out for their best interests.
Bemidji State is on solid ground in the WCHA and that is good news for the program’s future. All the work put in by the BSU administration, the city, state and members of the community to make the WCHA a reality in Bemidji proved to be a smart move. Without the WCHA and the Sanford Center, BSU hockey may very well be in the group with all the questions right now.
Bemidji State hockey drew 62,011 fans to home games at Sanford Center this year. 62,011 is number that is good for BSU hockey, the university and the city.
In the short term, losing the regular rivalries created by decades of tradition among the WCHA schools will be tough to accept. Some fans are already having a hard time accepting it and some never will buy into it.
I do not see college hockey collapsing anytime soon. It will just look different.
Matt Read update
Former Bemidji State captain Matt Read is being represented by Paul Ostby of Sheehy Hockey in his efforts to land a professional contract. Read is expected to sign a contract by Thursday according to a public twitter post from Sheehy Hockey on Tuesday.
Michael Russo, the Minnesota Wild beat writer for the Star Tribune, wrote on Twitter Tuesday the Wild have interest in signing Read, but will not get into a bidding war with other teams. Aaron Portzline, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat writer for the Columbus Post Dispatch, wrote on Twitter Tuesday that Read informed the Blue Jackets he will not sign there.
Current NHL players Drew Stafford, Matt Niskanen, Jordan Schroeder and Ryan Suter are among Sheehy Hockey’s clients. Sheehy Hockey is based out of Minneapolis.