National Collegiate Hockey Conference launched after ‘intense’ lead-up

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference — college hockey’s newest conference that will be comprised of Denver, Colorado College, North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and Miami — was officially announced on Wednesday at a news conference at the Penrose House in Colorado Springs, Colo. It will begin play in the 2013-14 season.

The news conference featured the coaches and athletic directors from each of the six institutions, with North Dakota AD Brian Faison and Denver coach George Gwozdecky addressing the media and answering questions. Each AD and coach then fielded media questions in private sessions after the formal press conference.

Faison said that the conference is formed on four key values of each school: competitiveness, an institutional commitment to hockey at the highest level, national exposure and history and tradition.

“Each of the six institutions came to the conclusion that the formation of the conference was absolutely the right decision for our respective institutions, our hockey programs and our fans,” said Faison. “The journey to get to today’s announcement has been intense. It’s gone on for many, many months.”

“We’re really going to be focused in with schools that have a burning desire to win national championships and are willing to fund their programs to that level, staff their programs to that level and build facilities that support those [goals],” said Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph. “From that perspective, it’s really exciting.”

The main precipitator for these teams leaving their respective conferences — Denver, North Dakota, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska Omaha departing the WCHA and Miami defecting from the CCHA — was the formation of the Big Ten Conference for hockey earlier this year.

The conference has not chosen a location for the league headquarters nor has it named a commissioner. The Goldwater Group and Stafford Sports are handling the conference’s administration at the outset. Stafford Sports’ website lists the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, which formerly administered what is now Atlantic Hockey, as one of its clients.

One other item that was hardly final at Wednesday’s news conference was the league’s size. It was made clear on Wednesday that the six founding members could be joined by other schools. Earlier reports indicated that Notre Dame is examining membership, something Faison confirmed on Wednesday. Western Michigan also has expressed interest, and reports surfaced this week that Boston College and Boston University were both approached by the NCHC but declined. Faison denied that either school was approached.

“I don’t think you’re going to see us stay at six [teams],” Ralph said. “I think you’re going to see us grow to seven or to eight or maybe beyond. And we’re not going to have a geographic boundary.

“You look at the name itself and we’re not confining ourselves to just a west or a central. We’re willing to look at teams from anywhere in the country that share our passion for playing hockey at the highest level.”

Besides further defining its membership, the NCHC also will be searching for a television deal. According to Ralph, they have already been contacted by networks.

“We’ve received some preliminary contacts, without us reaching out yet, from [networks] that are interested in carrying our games,” Ralph said. “Television is much more about exposure than it is about revenue.

“We’re going to be working to craft the best possible multimedia deal that we can. We want to make sure this league gets exposure.”

Some questioned the timing of the announcement and that so many key factors are not yet in place. Ralph said that it had to be announced now to be fair to all teams impacted. He also seemed hopeful that timing the start of play for the NCHC in concert with the start of the Big Ten will lead to a unified sense of working together across all of college hockey rather than what could become resentment by those teams left out of both leagues.

“Hockey scheduling is done two years out and we wanted to make sure [all schools] had enough lead time to make any changes they need to make,” Ralph said. “We’re syncing this to the start of the Big Ten Conference start. We hope there will be a little more symmetry nationwide in how we accommodate others to make sure everybody’s hockey program continues moving forward.”

One thing that was clear on Wednesday is that the decision by the schools to leave their respective conferences was a difficult one and could cause strife among those left out. Schools that weren’t included could harbor ill will, something that might become apparent in each team’s final two seasons in their current conference.

For someone like Colorado College coach Scott Owens, who has either played or coached in the WCHA for 21 years, Wednesday’s announcement was bittersweet

“I have mixed emotions,” Owens said. “A lot of the people I got into the business with and learned the business with, they’re all WCHA people. At the same time, things do change. Things change all the time. So I’m very excited about what’s on the horizon.”