The WCHA lifted its moratorium on expansion in a unanimous vote Thursday, and it didn’t take long for Bemidji State to put itself at the front of the line among applicants.
The league’s vote, taken during league meetings at the NCAA convention in Washington, D.C., means that it will accept applications until March 31.
Bemidji State, part of the CHA for men’s hockey and already a WCHA member in the women’s league, has sought membership in the men’s league to ensure the future viability of its program.
Within an hour of the WCHA’s announcement that the moratorium had been lifted, Bemidji State issued a release saying it would pursue membership.
“This vote gives Bemidji State an opportunity to share the story of its men’s hockey program with the members institutions of the WCHA,” BSU athletic director Dr. Rick Goeb said in the release.
“We realize we will need the support of eight of the WCHA’s 10 members for our application to succeed and we intend to work tirelessly over the next several months to show the WCHA what Bemidji State University brings to the table.
“After seeing what we have to offer, we believe the WCHA will be excited about adding Bemidji State University as its newest member.”
The WCHA will review the applications it receives at its meeting in Marco Island, Fla., April 26-28. A vote isn’t guaranteed, commissioner Bruce McLeod said; the league also could decide to have a special meeting later to vote.
The earliest a new member could start play in the WCHA is the 2011-12 season. Conference schedules for the next two seasons already have been completed.
“The association wants to open the door and see who might be waiting,” McLeod said via phone from Washington, D.C. “Whether it’s one school or three schools or four schools or whatever, we don’t know what’s out there.”
Bemidji State has been out there for a while, but the WCHA had previously cited the moratorium when deflecting the Beavers’ advances at membership. That moratorium on expansion has existed since Minnesota State became the league’s 10th team in 1999.
Removing the moratorium took only a majority of the league — six votes. Approving a new member requires 75 percent — eight votes.
Despite Thursday’s vote being unanimous, it doesn’t necessarily mean the support is there for Bemidji State’s application, McLeod said.
“The vote was for lifting the moratorium,” McLeod said. “It certainly was not an institution-specific vote at all and doesn’t guarantee membership.”
Bemidji State will have to convince WCHA members that it’s in their best interests to keep the Beavers involved in college hockey. An 11-team league isn’t a great idea, some have said, because of scheduling snafus, so a 12-team arrangement might be the preferred expansion method.
The Beavers would be the main tenant in a proposed 4,000-seat arena, but getting into the WCHA has been one of the stumbling blocks.
A member of the four-team CHA, Bemidji State already is in a scheduling agreement with the WCHA that is scheduled to start in the 2010-11 season. It provides for games, both home and away, against WCHA teams.
CHA correspondent Matt Mackinder contributed to this report.