The worst-kept secret in college hockey proved true when the National Collegiate Hockey Conference announced its first commissioner is former United States Olympic Committee chief executive officer Jim Scherr.
Scherr, 50, said the contract was for 4 1/2 years, but declined to mention other terms. He beat out 80 candidates, according to North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison.
“It was an easy decision for me,” Scherr told the 75 people on hand at the Penrose House in Colorado Springs Wednesday. “The opportunities for this conference are tremendous when the league drops the puck for the first time in 21 months.”
The NCHC begins play in fall 2013.
The Colorado Springs Gazette and the Associated Press both confirmed on Tuesday through an anonymous source close to the league that Scherr’s hire would be announced.
The league members are founders Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha and North Dakota. St. Cloud State and Western Michigan joined on Sept. 22.
The eight-team league based in Colorado Springs announced its formation on July 13 in the same room of the Penrose House. Scherr said he already began moving into the offices of the nearby Copper Building on Tuesday.
He was anxious to get started on the job at hand once the press conference and interviews were over.
“I’m looking forward to getting to work,” Scherr said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to do things the right way from the beginning.”
Scherr will hire a director of hockey operations, who will oversee the director of officials, coaches, scheduling and other on-ice concerns, as well as a public relations, marketing and promotions director. He mentioned 90-120 days as a timeline for making some hires, but stressed that it may take longer to evaluate the candidates that have already approached the league.
The league will continue to work toward a TV deal – rumored to be a 16-game package with the CBS Sports Network – and has already begun talks concerning the site for the league postseason tournament, Scherr said.
He also said that the league did not have any immediate plans to expand.
“It would be preemptive to talk about adding teams,” Scherr said. “The conference is happy with the eight teams we have.”
League representatives were happy to land Scherr, whose experience includes serving as USOC CEO from 2005-09, overseeing 45 Olympic sports and directing the day-to-day operations. During that time, the 2008 Olympic team collected 110 medals, the most ever for an American Olympic team in a non-boycotted Games, to lead the overall medal count at the Beijing Summer games. The United States also won an all-time high 25 Winter Games medals at Torino in 2006.
“He blew away the established criteria,” Faison said.
Scherr was interim USO CEO from 2003-05, served as chief of sports performance from 2000-03, and served as USA Wrestling executive director from 1990-2000. He said his experience dealing with the struggles of NCAA wrestling will be helpful in helping promote and grow Division I hockey.
“We’re very pleased where we came out and where we’re headed,” said Colorado College athletic director Ken Ralph, who led the search committee.
The former Olympic wrestler said he no longer will be the CEO for 776 Original Marketing, a marketing and public relations firm, in Colorado Springs. Clients included a number of amateur sports organizations.
“Being commissioner will have all my attention,” Scherr said. “With the commitments shown by the schools, coaches and programs, this has a chance to be the premier single-sport conference in the NCAA. They’ve done this right.”
The announcement of Penn State’s new Division I program prompted the other Big Ten schools to form a six-team conference that include PSU, current WCHA members Minnesota and Wisconsin and CCHA schools Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. That league begins play in 2013.
With Notre Dame joining Hockey East, the WCHA will absorb the depleted CCHA, which ceases operations after next season.