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COLLEGE HOCKEY: Media package, budgets major topics as WCHA presidents meet in Bemidji

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BEMIDJI - The Western Collegiate Hockey Association might still experience some growing pains as it enters its first season as a 10-team league in 2013-14. But at the very least, league officials say they’re working on ways to make sure the conference remains viable in the future. And that includes an innovative new media package.

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Bemidji State hosted presidents, athletic directors and other officials from the conference Sunday and Monday in Bemidji. And although WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod referred to much of the agenda as “meat and potatoes” stuff, one of the major talking points concerned a possible league-wide media package.

Bemidji State president Richard Hanson described the package as an internet-based streaming service similar to ESPN3. At the moment, he said, it doesn’t involve a league-wide television deal and it’s still in the early stages. On Monday the presidents sat through a presentation outlining how such a package would work.

“It’ll be a web feed from all of our schools, and while that’s not as good as television it’s still useful,” he said. “So today we took the first couple of steps. We got the model explained to us.”

Hanson said the league would be working with Fox, which is launching a new streaming service called Fox Sports Go.

Each school would still be producing its own broadcasts, he said, but games would all be accessible from one source.

It’s all part of the league’s plan to remind college hockey fans that it’s still a competitive conference, even without the marquee teams.

“It’s very important to get the word out about the WCHA,” Hanson said. “The quality of hockey is still going to be good. We’re letting people know that we’re not just the discards from the super-league.”

Hanson was referring to the newly-formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten Hockey Conference, which helped gut the WCHA of more than half its members and caused the demise of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Bemidji State, along with Minnesota State-Mankato, Alaska-Anchorage and Michigan Tech, remain in the WCHA. Joining them from the now-defunct CCHA are Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green State, Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan. Alabama-Huntsville joins as an independent.

One of the main purposes of the meetings, according to WCHA commissioner McLeod, was to get everyone on the same page for the upcoming season.

“That was a good session,” he said. “For me, I had some particular issues. Mostly mundane things…. For example, how we handle our budget and how our budgets are developed.”

He referred to the budget for next season as a “best guesstimate,” as the league will be holding its tournament in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the first time in 2014. The league plans on alternating between Grand Rapids and its normal location at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

“We’ve never been in Grand Rapids before,” McLeod said. “We’ve never solicited sponsorships for all of our content other than being in St. Paul. So that’s something we’ll have to figure out.”

Although both Hanson and McLeod both described much of the work done Sunday and Monday as planning work, the presidents did re-elect Minnesota State Mankato president Richard Davenport as chair of the WCHA president’s group and decided to make the chair a two-year term instead of a one-year term.

McLeod also spent some time discussing officiating and other in-game operations with the athletic directors present. Greg Shepherd will return as the league’s director of officials, he said.

He noted that the conference’s officials were “raided a bit” by the Big Ten and NCHC. They’ve also added a few from the CCHA, although said he did not have exact numbers.

“We’re just trying to get everyone on the same page,” McLeod said. “From the NCAA standpoint, it’s not a rule-changing year, so it’s not about updating ourselves on the rules. It’s more about the nuances of how Greg likes to do things.”

And until the teams actually meet together on the ice for the first time in October, there’s going to be a lot of nuances to get used to.

“It’s about viability as a conference, we want people to know who we are,” Hanson said. “We want to preserve the brand. That’s really important. The WCHA has been around a long time. We want to enhance that, and we think we can by playing really well.”

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Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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