Reasons for change surface; UND looking to keep up with times in new leagueGRAND FORKS — The silence has been broken.
By: Brad Schlossman, Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS — The silence has been broken.
At noon Saturday, six schools sent out a joint statement confirming what was reported Thursday afternoon: the University of North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth and Miami will break away from their conference and start a new hockey league in 2013-14.
The official statement was only three paragraphs long and said that athletic directors, coaches and other administrators will be unavailable for comment until a press conference scheduled in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Wednesday.
However, a few reasons why UND and the others decided to make this move have started to come to the forefront.
There have already been discussions with members of the new league and television executives about getting games nationally televised on Versus, which is expected to soon be re-branded as the NBC Sports Network.
This would give UND a greater range of exposure than the current deal with Fox College Sports and DirecTV.
Versus recently agreed to a 10-year contract extension to continue televising NHL games in the United States. The station typically broadcasts NHL games early in the week, which could leave the weekend open for college hockey.
Colorado College currently is a television partner with CBS College Sports. Denver has games on FSN Rocky Mountain.
You will probably hear athletic directors use the “like-minded schools” line at Wednesday’s press conference in discussing why this new league is happening.
While administrators may not expand on that line, a source told the Herald that when business was conducted in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, there were often times two blocks of voting.
The schools with larger budgets typically wanted to spend money, invest and try new things. Schools with smaller budgets often resisted.
With Minnesota and Wisconsin departing for the Big Ten Hockey Conference, the smaller-budget schools take over control of the voting block. This caused athletic directors with larger budgets to worry about the future of the conference.
UND often clashes with Minnesota and Wisconsin on the recruiting grounds.
UND and others likely wondered whether the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference would be more appealing to recruits than playing in what remained in the WCHA.
With a conference of traditionally strong teams, new buildings, new media opportunities and strong fan bases, the new league should be an attractive place to play for top recruits.
It is clear that UND wasn’t enamored with the leadership in the WCHA. In fact, athletic director Brian Faison said as much in an interview with the Herald a week ago.
“It’s no secret that I’ve had concerns with the administrative side of the WCHA,” Faison said.
Wisconsin State Journal columnist Andy Baggot wrote this week: “The idea that Denver, Colorado College, North Dakota and defending NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth would prefer to start their own brand instead of sticking with one that’s been around since 1959 — claiming 37 national titles in the process — is a clear indictment of the WCHA and the suspect management style of its commissioner, Bruce McLeod.”
It is unclear whether the departing schools tried to get a change in leadership in the WCHA before leaving, but there obviously will be new hierarchy in front of them in two years.
Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.