Bill Robertson is a positive person, and he’ll tell you just as much.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association men’s commissioner is optimistic the 2020-21 season will start on time this fall, though the league is preparing for various scenarios as the coronavirus pandemic plays out.
“I am very hopeful that we are playing a full season of college hockey,” Robertson said Thursday, April 23. “I am hopeful that in early October we’ll start playing and there’ll be fans in the stands, as well, and we’re past this health crisis. But certainly we don’t know the answers.
“… I’m not a doctor, but we’ll take direction from the NCAA, as well as our individual 10 institutions and how they’re looking at things and whether they’re having students on campus, etc. But I’m hopeful that we’re playing a full season of hockey in the WCHA starting in October.”
Preparations for next season were among the topics covered earlier this week at the league’s annual meetings. Instead of coaches and administrators meeting in Naples, Fla., this year’s proceedings took place virtually.
“I believe our meetings ran very smoothly overall from that perspective,” said Robertson, now entering his seventh season as commissioner. “We wrapped those up late Tuesday on the men’s side and the women’s (side) finished their’s on Wednesday. It was a very good trial run for us using Zoom. We’ll probably use more of that type of technology for the future.”
Among the topics discussed were the financial losses the league suffered from the cancellation of the WCHA semifinals and championship game -- a significant source of revenue for the league -- as well as next year’s budget and NCAA issues like overtime and video replay.
“We certainly took a hit financially by not playing,” Robertson said regarding the WCHA playoffs cancellation. “We came out better than I anticipated after losing all those games.”
The pandemic has the potential to impact the start of next season, another topic of discussion at this week’s meetings.
The WCHA will release its full 2020-21 schedule as originally planned in the next couple of weeks. The league may need to adjust the schedule and is developing several different potential models, Robertson said without getting into specifics.
If schools continue distance learning into the fall semester, the season might not start until November or January. Atlantic Hockey and Hockey East are looking at such potential start times, league officials told USCHO.com this week.
“All the college hockey conferences are going through this exercise,” Robertson said, “and I’ll be on calls with my fellow commissioners next week again talking about this.”
The WCHA, along with the rest of the college hockey world, will continue to monitor the latest news as the pandemic progresses.
“More than anything, the safety of our student-athletes and the fans coming to games will be the most important thing, as well as the administrators and people that are working the games,” Robertson said.
Even before the pandemic hit, the 2020-21 season was set to be the last for the WCHA with its current 10-team lineup.
Bemidji State and six other schools (Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan) announced last summer that they plan to leave the WCHA and form a new conference to begin play in 2021-22. The new league announced in February that it will revive the CCHA name.
Robertson has continued to reach out to find new league members.
“We want the WCHA to continue past this year,” he said. “We’re working with the schools that are going to continue to try to play in the WCHA: Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Fairbanks and Alabama Huntsville. They would like to see additional teams join this league. We are exploring opportunities and having discussions with several institutions that have an interest in the WCHA, and we’ll continue to have those discussions throughout the summer and into the fall.”