If you haven’t seen, heard or met Jim Scherr in the past three weeks, you haven’t been paying much attention to Division I hockey.
The former United States Olympic Committee chief executive officer, announced as the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s first commissioner on Jan. 4, has hit the airwaves for more than 15 TV and radio interviews.
Mix in meetings with U.S. Olympic, NCAA and other hockey officials at the recent NCAA meetings, and “more than 30″ potential applicants contacting Scherr about the league’s hockey operations director position, and it was no surprise his cell phone buzzed twice during a 15-minute interview on Thursday.
The 4 1/2-year contract he signed has made him one busy man and the interest in the league from organizations and companies not usually associated with hockey pleases him. He’s using his extensive contacts within amateur sports, especially the U.S. Olympic movement, to generate new potential partnerships with the new league.
All that legwork and recent NCHC meetings has the eight-school league close to putting together its first conference schedule — likely a 24-game slate with 10 nonleague dates — for when play begins with the 2013-14 season.
“We’re close on scheduling and hopefully we’ll be ready to make an announcement next week,” he said.
A “major announcement” concerning a national TV package — reportedly being negotiated with CBS, Fox and NBC — is soon to follow, along with a decision on a postseason venue.
The leading venue in that regard is rumored to be the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., which is the current tournament home for the WCHA.
The NCHC’s founding members are Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota. St. Cloud State and Western Michigan joined on Sept. 22, 2011. The Colorado Springs-based conference announced its formation on July 13, 2011.
The summer and fall of conference realignments were sparked by Penn State’s new Division I program, which prompted the other Big Ten schools to form a six-team conference that also begins play in 2013. That league will include PSU, current WCHA members Minnesota and Wisconsin and CCHA schools Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.
With Notre Dame headed to Hockey East, the WCHA will absorb the remainder of the depleted CCHA, which will dissolve after the 2012-13 season.
A job opening announcement for the league hockey operations director, a position some fans are concerned about because of Scherr’s limited experience in that regard, has yet to be released but the position has attracted more than 30 “very good” candidates, Scherr said.
“It’s really a testament to the prospects for the conference, the work the athletic directors have done and the strength of the schools in the conference,” Scherr said. “We’ve had a large amount of interest without putting any job opening notice out on the market.”
Scherr served as USOC CEO from 2003 to 2009, when he dealt directly with USA Hockey, and spent 11 years as executive director for USA Wrestling and three as Chief of Sport Performance (2000-03).
In addition to all the big-picture deals and jobs, the everyday operations are starting to come together. Work continues on hiring an office staff, developing a public relations platform and marketing strategy with a soon-to-be hired PR/media director and securing sponsors.
The league has hired a construction company to refurbish the league’s offices provided by the El Pomar Foundation of Colorado Springs in the Copper Building near The Broadmoor Hotel. Scherr hopes to be settled into his office by mid-February.
Until then, he’s working from his home office and using his cell phone and laptop to field calls and emails in between meetings in coffee shops and board rooms. He’s learning about college hockey and the people who are its biggest advocates.
“I’ve found out there’s a lot of paperwork to starting up a league,” Scherr said with a smile. “It’s also reinforced what I already knew. This is a close-knit sport. The people who follow it are passionate about it. You can’t ask for more than that.”