Proposed new conference includes CCHA, WCHA schools

A proposal for the first major change to the college hockey conference picture of the post-Big Ten era is circulating, and an accelerated timeline could lead to an agreement within the next two weeks.

Some CCHA and WCHA schools have discussed leaving their conferences for a new league, sources have told USCHO.

The schools include North Dakota, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth, Colorado College and Nebraska-Omaha from the WCHA and Notre Dame, Miami and possibly Western Michigan from the CCHA, sources indicated.

If those eight teams leave their conferences, the CCHA and WCHA would each be left with five schools, one fewer than is traditionally required to maintain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Sources said agreements to join the proposed conference could come by the middle of July.

Notre Dame associate athletic director Tom Nevala said the school has been approached by “any number of entities trying to determine whether we might have an interest in another arrangement,” but he would not comment specifically on the potential for a new conference.

He also said the only time frame Notre Dame has been asked to consider is a CCHA request of all of its teams to make their future intentions known by the league’s August meeting.

“We’re at a stage where we’re still analyzing our continued affiliation with the CCHA,” Nevala said. “The league has provided us a bunch of information so that we can understand what it will mean to still be in the CCHA going forward.”

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said his league has studied different scenarios that have been floated in an offseason full of speculation about college hockey’s future. But he said this proposal seems to have more momentum.

“I’m not sure why or whatever; I’m not privy to those conversations. I’ve never had a conversation with North Dakota or Denver about their plans that they’re pushing,” McLeod said. “At this point, I haven’t thought about Plan B at all. I’m still working on the assumption that we’re together as 10 [teams after Minnesota and Wisconsin leave for the Big Ten] and, as unanimously directed by the group in Florida [at league meetings in April], can consider extending an invitation to anybody that could strengthen the league. And that’s our plan.”

Athletic directors at Denver and North Dakota could not be reached for comment.

But in a Grand Forks Herald story, North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison said schools have been looking into new possibilities.

“At the end of the day, we have to do what’s in the best interest of UND hockey, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Faison told the paper. “It’s an emotional decision. It’s a business decision.”

Minnesota-Duluth athletic director Bob Nielson told the Duluth News Tribune that the school’s intent is to be a member of the WCHA, but it is considering its options.

“We’re concerned about the college hockey landscape,” Nielson said. “We’re looking at all the options of what could happen. Our hockey program is very important to our school, and we want to be proactive.”

The long-rumored emergence of a Big Ten hockey conference became reality in March, when the conference announced the five current Division I hockey-playing schools would join with newcomer Penn State to form a league in the fall of 2013.

Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State will leave the 11-team CCHA at that point, and Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave the 12-team WCHA.

In the wake of that announcement, speculation has grown about a large-scale shuffle of schools, mainly in the West. Hockey East has been part of the discussion also, with the Bangor Daily News reporting that Notre Dame is also considering that league as a potential destination.

If the proposed eight-team league becomes a reality, it would leave Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan in the CCHA. The WCHA would include Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State.

McLeod said the WCHA has again lifted its moratorium on expansion to pursue other teams. That was last lifted in 2009, when the league temporarily accepted applications that led to the inclusion of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha last season.