WCHA looks at expansion as it plans for future
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association will drop to nine schools for the 2013-14 season and expanding to 10 teams is one goal future members have as the league prepares for change.
Minnesota State Moorhead, Alabama-Huntsville, Wisconsin-Green Bay and Iowa State have shown interest in joining the WCHA, according to Bemidji State Athletic Director Rick Goeb.
"I think all of those (schools) are interesting to look at," he said. "At the end of the day, you really want to look at which one is really making the commitment. And when I say commitment, I mean commitment across the board."
As Goeb grabbed a thick binder of league paperwork behind his desk Wednesday afternoon, he started talking about the issues future league members are working on and the three committees formed to handle those duties. The committees cover governance, marketing, and scheduling and postseason tournament.
Goeb said administrators from the schools have weekly conference calls to work out future league details and added the WCHA is "serious" about adding a 10th member to improve scheduling.
"Some are a little bit further on in making their commitment to hockey and making it known," he said.
The 12-team WCHA as it currently exists will change in 2013-14 when eight schools depart for the Big Ten conference and National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Current WCHA members Bemidji State, Minnesota State Mankato, Michigan Tech and Alaska-Anchorage will form the 2013-14 WCHA with current Central Collegiate Hockey Association schools Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State, Bowling Green, Ferris State and Alaska-Fairbanks.
Expansion requirements in the WCHA bylaws are being developed by the league's governance committee, which includes input from the presidents at each school.
"We don't want to go to 10 for the sake of going to 10, we want to go to 10 with the right member," Goeb said of potential candidates. "They have to demonstrate they are serious about hockey and can be great members in the future ... If they can sell the nine new members in the WCHA that they are committed to it, then they will have a chance to get in."
Bemidji State is in the middle of its second WCHA season, and Goeb recalled BSU's efforts to become a league member. The drive included several meetings with member schools, government officials, work within the BSU administration and community fundraising.
"When we were trying to get into the WCHA, it wasn't a three- or four-month process; it was years," he said. "We have loyal fans, we have people that stepped to the plate and made financial commitments to hockey. The university made a huge commitment and that's what it takes."
Goeb is part of the WCHA scheduling and postseason tournament committee.
He said the league has voted on and approved a 28-game regular-season schedule for 2013-14. Though the format has been confirmed, specifics on home and away games are not determined yet.
Also in the planning process is the site for the postseason tournament. The WCHA Final Five is currently held at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul every March, but it will not continue there beyond 2013.
Goeb said the committee is developing financial models for different site options to disseminate to the league for a vote. Sites being awarded on a bidding process, selection of a neutral site or having the regular-season champion serve as the host are some options being explored.
Goeb prefers having the regular-season champion host to drive regular-season competition and aid tournament attendance figures. He expressed confidence in the Sanford Center's ability to host the tournament and said there has been some discussion of that option.
"In many ways it may come down to what model is the most lucrative," he said. "Which one brings in the most money? The ones that bring in the most money are the ones that bring in the most fans and have the best fan experience. Typically they go hand in hand."
The focus of the marketing committee is currently directed at improving game broadcast quality at each school. Goeb said making all games available on the internet is a big first step in moving forward.
"Then they work to the TV," he said. "How many games can we televise? Who can we attract and what kind of deal can we put together?"
Bemidji State home games are currently televised in high definition on Lakeland Public Television, picked up by all other Minnesota PBS stations and broadcast statewide on the Minnesota Channel.
"Lakeland puts on a quality production that's hard to beat by any standard in Division I hockey," Goeb said. "We love our partnership and we want it to continue."
Goeb is working together with Minnesota's four other Division I hockey schools, all currently in the WCHA, to create an annual "Minnesota Cup" midseason tournament at the Xcel Energy Center starting in 2013-14.
Minnesota would play in the four-team tournament each year with the other schools (Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth and Mankato) participating on a rotating basis.
Goeb said the Cup is "going to happen," but Bemidji State is tentatively the first team out of the rotation and not expected to participate the first year.
"I think it's going to be a lot like the Final Five in many ways," Goeb said. "I think it's a win-win for hockey and a win-win for Bemidji State with everything going on in the WCHA."
Goeb said there is a tentative plan to have Minnesota play a non-conference series at the Sanford Center in 2013-14.
"It (Minnesota Cup) works for us," Goeb said. "We're trying to make it very attractive. That's why it would be important that Minnesota comes here. That needs to happen. It's good for our fans and us to have Minnesota come here if we're not in it that first year."