Bemidji State did not get the answer it was looking for from the WCHA on Tuesday.
But it also did not get the answer it dreaded.
The WCHA did not vote on the Beavers’ application for admission to the league at the end of its meeting Tuesday.
Instead, it voted to open the door for more applicants by indefinitely eliminating the moratorium on expansion that was temporarily shelved earlier this year.
Bemidji State’s hope of getting into the WCHA — a vital move for a tradition-laden program that soon will find itself without a home — rests with the WCHA finding another school to join and bring the league to 12 teams.
“We’ve been patient for 10 years,” Beavers coach Tom Serratore said. “What’s a few more months?”
In those few months, the WCHA and commissioner Bruce McLeod will actively seek the 12th team that could bring closure to a long period of nervousness for the Bemidji State program.
Speculation centers on Nebraska-Omaha, which was close to joining the league in the late 1990s before partnering with the CCHA, but it’s hardly the only target.
Former WCHA member Northern Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks and Alabama-Huntsville, a school that, like Bemidji State, soon will be without a conference because of the pending dissolution of the CHA, have been mentioned as possibilities.
Responding to a question on a teleconference Tuesday, McLeod confirmed only that he had approached or heard from either Nebraska-Omaha or Northern Michigan.
Minnesota State-Moorhead, which has floated the idea of starting a Division I program, sounds like a non-starter to the league because it doesn’t even have a team together yet.
McLeod said that he will be able to “put some things on the table” for schools that may be interested in joining the WCHA.
Some of those could include a lowering of the cost of joining the league or a shortening of the waiting period to start collecting portions of league revenues, McLeod said.
In even going down this road of searching for a team instead of waiting for one to knock on the door, the WCHA appears to be showing a good-faith effort to make a home for Bemidji State.
“The direction I got from the athletic directors is they definitely want me to be more aggressive in my pursuit, which I think they consider as a compatible No. 12,” McLeod said.
The timetable for a resolution is undefined, but McLeod said his goal is to put things together by the middle of this summer.
The earliest a team could join the WCHA is the 2011-12 season, which means that, if admitted, Bemidji State would have to play the 2010-11 season as an independent.
That, however, is preferable to the alternative, Bemidji State representatives said.
“It’s not a preference for us, but we can do that,” Serratore said. “We have the support of the college hockey body. We just have to be patient right here. We just have to let the WCHA do their thing because this has to play out a little bit. This is the most positive feedback that we’ve had in a while right here. I’m very confident that we’re going to get into the WCHA.”
The Beavers and any other teams that apply need eight votes from the 10-team league for admission. Anything short would put Bemidji State’s program at death’s door given the crumbling of the CHA, which will disband after the 2009-10 season.
McLeod said he thinks that the WCHA can sell itself.
“We do think we have a premier conference that people will be willing to [join], for a number of reasons,” he said. “I personally have a lot of confidence, and I hope it’s not false confidence. I have a lot of faith in what the WCHA as a league and as a brand brings to the table.
“In my heart of hearts, to be honest with you, I think there’s a number of people that I can put together the attributes as to why they should be considering the WCHA. I’m pretty confident in that area. And hopefully not overconfident, and I don’t mean to be arrogant at all.”
A run to the Frozen Four put Bemidji’s plight in the spotlight in the last month, and McLeod admitted that put some pressure on the league to act.
The act of approaching other schools is a dicey one for McLeod.
He said he has to proceed with caution when it comes to talking to schools from other conferences to avoid a breach of ethics.
“Anything I do that involves another league, boy, I’m going to be up front, on the table, above board as much as I possibly can,” McLeod said. “But, having said that, I think we’ve reached a real critical point here in collegiate hockey, especially here in the West.”