College hockey’s shifting sands have reached the Division III level.The Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, in business since 1980-81, was informed Wednesday that five Wisconsin-based members are leaving at the end of the 2013-14 school year — Superior, Eau Claire, River Falls, Stevens Point and Stout.
By: By Kevin Pates, Duluth News Tribune, Superior Telegram
The Northern Collegiate Hockey Association, in business since 1980-81, was informed Wednesday that five Wisconsin-based members are leaving at the end of the 2013-14 school year — Superior, Eau Claire, River Falls, Stevens Point and Stout.
All are part of the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in other sports and will form five-team WIAC men’s and women’s hockey conferences as of 2014-15. The remaining members of the men’s NCHA, St. Scholastica and St. Norbert of DePere, Wis., must find a new home, possibly in a revamped NCHA. Six women’s teams, including St. Scholastica, are in the same situation. The NCHA women’s league was formed in 2000-01.
Within the past year, Division I men’s hockey conferences in the West have announced significant league affiliation changes starting in 2013-14.
“We’ve been talking about cost reduction measures in our conference the last four or five years, and when each campus in the Wisconsin State System was asked to give back money awarded at the start of the (2011-12) school year, that really got our attention,” said UWS athletic director Steve Nelson, a former men’s hockey coach at the school. “This was a difficult decision (to leave the NCHA), but like many things today, it is money-driven.”
The Wisconsin Department of Administration announced last fall that the University of Wisconsin System would need to pay back an estimated $65.7 million, in addition to a previous $12 million budget cut.
NCHA administration costs and travel costs, especially on the women’s side, were notable factors for the WIAC schools, said Nelson. One-way mileage from Superior includes 331 miles to St. Norbert College; 683 miles to Adrian (Mich.) College; 448 miles to Lake Forest (Ill.) College; and 403 miles to Concordia University in Mequon, Wis.
St. Scholastica, an NCHA member since 1983-84, must now look elsewhere.
Athletic director Don Olson, told of the WIAC withdrawal just a few days ago, said he’ll talk with the eight-team Midwest Collegiate Hockey Conference and the WIAC, which said Wednesday it is open to expansion of its hockey conference. The Saints will not likely approach the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which does not accept single-sport conference affiliation, said Olson.
“Hockey is very important to our school and we’ll explore every possibility,” said Olson, who coached men’s hockey for 32 years at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., a MIAC member.
Nelson said the decision of the Wisconsin schools did not involve any private school versus public school discussions. St. Scholastica and UWS officials indicated the schools will continue to meet annually regardless of conference affiliation.
One concession the WIAC schools will make in leaving the NCHA is giving up an automatic qualifying position in the NCAA Division III 11-team men’s playoff field. Conferences must have a minimum of seven members to earn an automatic berth through a league postseason tournament. At-large teams are chosen through ranking criteria. The four WIAC members not sponsoring hockey, aren’t expected to add the sport.
“The NCHA has changed a lot through the years and I’m confident things will shake out and we’ll end up in a good situation,” said St. Scholastica men’s coach Mark Wick, in his eighth season at the school and a former UWS assistant.
Strangely enough, St. Norbert and St. Scholastica ended up 1-2 in the NCHA regular-season standings and have the best chance among league members to qualify for the 2012 Division III tournament. The league playoffs open this weekend.
“This won’t be a huge change for us in (men’s) hockey,” said UWS coach Dan Stauber, in his 12th season. “We’ll still be playing most of the same opponents, but our conference affiliation will be under the WIAC banner.”
The change has the same feel as Minnesota and Wisconsin leaving the men’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association after 2012-13 to form the Big Ten Conference hockey league.
The NCHA has withstood numerous member changes through 32 years. The six charter members were UWS, Eau Claire, River Falls, Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Mankato and St. Cloud State in a Division II league. Bemidji State, Mankato and St. Cloud State moved on to Division I.