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Bemidji State's transition to WCHA, Event Center will boost entire athletic program

Bemidji State athletic director Rick Goeb talks about BSU's admission into the WCHA during a June 29 public rally/press conference at Bemidji State University. Last week, Goeb said increased revenue opportunies associated with the WCHA and Bemidji Regional Event Center will help competitively fund Bemidji State's 13 Division II programs. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

(Editor's note: This report is the first of a two-part series on how Bemidji State's move to the WCHA will impact BSU's Division II programs.

In Saturday's paper, Bemidji State coaches react. Also, a look at the long-term future of BSU athletics.)

Less than two weeks removed from one of the major announcements in Bemidji State University history, athletic director Rick Goeb talks with enthusiasm about the future of Beaver athletics.

The admission of the men's hockey program into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association on June 26 was an instrumental step in saving the program. The move also stands to benefit Bemidji State's NCAA Division II programs.

"I don't know how we can talk about increasing Division II sports without talking about Division I hockey," said Goeb, as he organized printouts of the Bemidji Regional Event Center in his office. "They are linked. The success of our hockey program and the revenue that's brought in will help our Division II sports and that has been the plan."

When the men's hockey program makes the transition from John Glas Fieldhouse to the Bemidji Regional Event Center in 2010-11 for the first year of WCHA competition, revenues associated with the move will kick start the process of pumping more money into all 13 of Bemidji State's Division II programs.

"We're looking at an increase in ticket revenue in hockey, we're looking at an increase in Beaver Pride membership ... I think all that will help our Division II programs and our Division II sports," said Goeb, who announced his intentions to competitively fund all programs during a press conference on June 29. "Because ultimately as we are already fully funded in hockey, this creates more revenue for Division II programs."

Those benefits will come in the form of additional scholarship funding and team staffing, which can make all the difference between top-tier and bottom-tier programs in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Where will the money come from?

As one of the smallest schools in the 14-team Northern Sun, BSU did not have the ability to competitively fund the Division II program when men's hockey went Division I in 1999.

The WCHA and BREC will change that some.

Despite the country's overall economic recession, the BSU athletic department will be working with increased funding over the next two years. Bemidji State's athletic budget was $3.65 million in 2008-09, will increase to $3.94 million for the 2009-10 season and $4.2 million in 2010-11.

The Bemidji State men's hockey budget each season is $850,000.

After men's hockey went Division I, the university and athletic department had to put money into the program to keep it financially sustainable.

Bill Maki, Bemidji State's vice president of finance and administration, said the university allocated between $450,000-$500,000 each season into men's hockey to meet the $850,000 budget prior to the 2008-09 season.

Maki noted men's hockey became solvent last season partly due to the presale of BREC rink suites. All 25 suites were sold with a commitment of $60,000 each.

Getting men's hockey to break even was one step in improving the overall funding position of the athletic program. Securing admission to the WCHA and working with community leaders to build the BREC was another part of the process.

"The difference of the men's program playing the WCHA and the BREC is that there will be much more opportunity for revenue," Maki said.

Maki cited that BSU men's hockey in the John Glas Fieldhouse brought in ticket proceeds of about $250,000 last season.

Maki said that ticket proceeds in the BREC will net $375,000 to $600,000 per year.

That figure does not include expected advertising revenue from sales of the dasher boards, merchandise in the arena and naming rights for the BSU exclusive areas.

Men's hockey operating costs will not change dramatically, but the savings in travel costs is notable.

Playing in the College Hockey America conference, Bemidji State is required to travel via airplane to rural New York, Alabama and Pennsylvania at least once a season for league games.

By switching to the WCHA, Goeb said BSU will fly only to league road games at Colorado College (Colorado Springs), Denver University and Alaska-Anchorage. Goeb said Anchorage provides a subsidy of airline tickets for WCHA games played in Anchorage.

The decrease in air travel alone will save the BSU athletic department $40,000 to $50,000 per year, which will initially help pay the admission fee to the WCHA.

"There is an entry fee into the WCHA, but much of it will be covered by the savings we will realize in travel expenses by being part of a conference that is a geographic fit for us," Maki said. "We also have a waiting period to share in postseason WCHA revenue, but since we have no revenue in this area now it will be a new source for us in the future."

The admission fee for both Bemidji State and expansion partner Nebraska-Omaha has yet to be released.

Goeb and Maki declined to disclose that admission fee for this report.

When Minnesota State-Mankato joined the WCHA in 1999-2000, that program paid an admission fee of $120,000 over three years according to a recent report by the Mankato Free Press.

Following a three-year waiting period, Bemidji State will share postseason revenue from the lucrative Final Five playoff tournament in St. Paul.

"We are following the protocol and we won't be sharing in the WCHA profits," Goeb said. "But we didn't get a profit in the CHA so it will be as if we are in the CHA for the first three years ... after three years we will be sharing in the WCHA revenue (from the Final Five). That's going to be significant to help our programs. They have done very well in profit sharing."

According to WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, each of the 10 WCHA member teams received $91,000 from the 2009 Final Five.

That revenue stream will come in one year faster than expected and will also be an advantage for Bemidji State athletics.

"The WCHA came out with a statement that said the '11-12 season was the year they were looking for us getting in," Goeb said. "Now it's '10-11, which is amazing ... As soon as the conference ends in the CHA we are sliding right into the WCHA. It couldn't have been any better. I'm not sure if that was the intent of some of the ADs."

How Beaver Pride fits in

The Northern Sun follows Division II rules in limiting each member institution to a maximum of 90 scholarships split evenly between men's and women's programs.

Bemidji State's move into the WCHA and the BREC will not generate enough revenue to fund all 90 scholarships. Goeb is hopeful gaps in funding each year will be bridged by alumni contributions and Beaver Pride with the ultimate goal of funding all 90 scholarships.

"I think we're doing a great job with that, we're increasing our scholarships at a pace when the economy is a little bit difficult right now, but we're still able to do that because of our loyal alums," Goeb said.

Goeb credited the men's football program with the strongest alumni fundraising campaign in the athletic department. He said the main reason for its success is the efforts spearheaded by head football coach Jeff Tesch, who is entering his 13th season with Bemidji State.

It has been a struggle to get similar programs off the ground in other sports primarily due to coaching turnover, though Goeb said the athletic department is committed to continual development of fundraising programs.

For now, Beaver Pride is the major fundraising arm for BSU athletics and is expected to be a major contributor in coming years along with men's hockey. Goeb is hopeful Beaver Pride membership will increase leading into the transition to the BREC and beyond.

"The best seats in the house are right on the center line up on top and you can have that," Goeb said. "Of course you are going to need to be Beaver Pride member. That's how Beaver Pride is going to get increased. People will want to be part of Beaver Pride, people are going to want to join Beaver Pride. You're going to get better seats if you are a Beaver Pride member. There's going to be benefits to be in Beaver Pride and it's not just hockey."

Season ticket priority starting for the first men's hockey season at the BREC will be determined by the Beaver Pride Priority Points System.

Points are acquired in the system through a number of categories: current level of Beaver Pride, lifetime contributions to BSU athletics and BSU, volunteer service for BSU athletics, the support of the move to Division I hockey in 1999 and years of season tickets to BSU hockey. BSU alumni and BSU athletic alumni also gain points.

The tentative seating chart for the BREC has the Beaver Pride section in the optimal viewing area between the blue lines on both sides of the rink bowl. When the time comes to select seats, those with the highest amount of points in the Beaver Pride system will select their seats first. Season tickets are then made available to the public after that list is exhausted.

This type of system is common in Division I collegiate athletics. The University of Minnesota used a similar system in determining seating priority for the new home of Gophers football at TCF Stadium this fall.

"We've looked at every possible scenario across the country," Goeb said. "We've looked at every school, what do they charge? How do they do their seating? You have to do your homework and I think we've done that and put together a solid plan. Its not finalized by no means but we're going to try and take care of families, we're going to try and take care of the students, we want to take care of the public, the alumni - we want to take care of all these different entities and we're providing seating areas for them."

Beaver Pride member benefits include season tickets to other Bemidji State sporting events and reduced membership to Gillett Recreation Center. The base level of Beaver Pride for 2009 costs $150-$299 and includes one season ticket to all Division II and women's hockey home games. For 2009, the Beaver Pride captain level ($600-$1,199) buys one men's hockey season ticket, one Gillett coupon and two season tickets to all Division II and women's hockey home games.

"We're going to really encourage the Beaver Pride membership because that helps our overall athletic program," Goeb said.

Beaver Pride will go from a dispersal budget of about $300,000 to more than $400,000 with the move to the WCHA and BREC. Goeb is hoping that Beaver Pride can get to a funding level of $800,000 in the coming years.

"That's our goal in Beaver Pride and I really believe that can happen," Goeb said.