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WCHA site visit: Commissioner McLeod discusses BSU's possible inclusion into the WCHA

Western Collegiate Hockey Association commissioner Bruce McLeod, right, talks with Bemidji mayor Richard Lehmann, left, following the WCHA Site Visit Rally Friday night in Memorial Hall at Bemidji State University. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State University is the lone applicant for admission into the prestigious Western Collegiate Hockey Association, WCHA Commissioner Bruce McLeod confirmed Friday.

That doesn't mean automatic admission for the men's hockey team -- the women's is already a WCHA team -- but it is a first step.

McLeod and University of North Dakota faculty representative Sue Jeno made a site visit to Bemidji on Friday to meet with Bemidji State officials about the application and to attend the Bemidji Regional Event Center groundbreaking and lunch, and the evening rally for the Frozen Four-bound Bemidji State Beavers.

"Obviously we know about the BSU hockey program," McLeod said in an interview. "There are no surprises there at all, but we've got 10 institutions in the WCHA right now. You can have great coaching, you can have nice facilities and you can have this and that, but the bottom line for the WCHA is that we have 10 institutions really on the same page.

"They have an absolute institutional commitment to their hockey program," McLeod said. "There's going to be days - we've all had our days like this that the Beavers have had today in the WCHA. But there are days when it's not so good either."

Even in the bad days, there must be an institutional commitment to maintain the hockey program, he said. "Not only to a Division I program, but to a quality Division I program, and that's what's important to the WCHA."

The site team met with BSU President Jon Quistgaard and looked over the new hockey provisions in the Bemidji Regional Event Center, "but most important with the administration here in Bemidji to get a good sense that the good days and the bad days, that they're going to be committed to a good, quality Division I hockey program."

BSU prepared for that nearly two years ago when Quistgaard called for stepped-up fundraising for the hockey program, and sold out suites in the new event center.

Does the WCHA have a strong application from BSU?

"Yes, we do," McLeod said. BSU will make a formal presentation to the league April 27 during the WCHA's spring meetings in Florida, he added.

Quistgaard "emphasized and showed us in black and white of the commitment that the institution has to the program, both men and women, and I'm sure that message will be loud and clear to all of our constituents in their presentation on the 27th," McLeod said.

At least eight of the 10 faculty reps in the WCHA would have to agree to admit BSU. But that's not certain.

With BSU the sole applicant, it would leave the WCHA an 11-team league which would present scheduling problems. Not in the math, McLeod said, but in producing a fair and equitable balance among the big and smaller schools in the league.

"I have put together an 11-team 28-game schedule for three years out," he said. "You can put it together. ... But there's no model to it."

The WCHA already plays an imbalanced schedule because home-and-home games aren't available to all teams. The 10-team, 28-game imbalanced schedule takes four years to work it out so that all teams play home and away an equal number of times. A 12-team, 28-game schedule takes five years.

"I have yet to figure out a way - I've been in NHL offices, every place I can to try to find some model that works with some fairness, some balance to it and I have yet to come up with it," he said.

The schedule he does have has some teams with two games on the road three years in a row to the same school.

"It's not fair to the institutions that are in the league right now, that they have no idea what their opponents' schedule is going to look like from year to year," he said. "It has no recognition of traditional opponents we have in the league."

Many think that a step backward, McLeod said.

Better than an 11-team league is a 12-team league, he said, and it appears work continues to gain another application.

"Obviously the answer to an 11-team league is a 12-team league," he said. "We are doing a lot of homework in that area. ... There are some interests. I can't mention them, but there are definitively possibilities for us but we have to come up with the right circumstances, the right way to approach, etc. etc."

McLeod says he hopes BSU can get an answer this spring, right at the WCHA's annual meeting. "That may or may not happen, depending on some things that are still in the works regarding some of the things we're hoping for in a little bit."

The WCHA may "back things up a little bit. That may also be an option," he said, to late spring or early summer, "to see if we can work some of these other options that may be available to us."