Planning continues on new hockey conference

Michigan Tech and Ferris State are two of the seven WCHA teams looking for a a new league.

BIG RAPIDS — It’s likely to still be a few more months before Ferris State and other hockey fans find out more about the new conference being explored to begin play with the 2021-2022 season.

Ferris and six other WCHA schools announced the beginning of this process in a press release on June 28.

The other schools include Bemidji State University, Bowling Green State University, Lake Superior State University, Michigan Technological University, Minnesota State University and Northern Michigan University.

They have all initiated the withdrawal process from the WCHA following the next two seasons.

The universities, including Ferris, have said there would be no comment from presidents, athletic directors and coaches during the initial stages and have referred all inquires to Morris Kurtz, a long-time athletic administrator and noted athletics and hockey consultant. He is assisting the group in this process.

“It’s a process,” Kurtz said in an interview with the Pioneer. “We initiated the proceedings. We’re checking boxes as we go along.”

Those boxes, Kurtz indicated, would be such items as having a commissioner, a location of the league office and official league title and other matters.

“We’re moving right along,” he said. “It’s a collaborative process. Everyone has made themselves available. We’ll do our best to keep the media informed.”

Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska (Fairbanks) and Alabama-Huntsville are the three WCHA schools not involved in this process. Although Kurtz would not comment further, it’s widely speculated the geographical factor is the main reason. There’s also speculation the future of Alaska schools’ athletic programs could be in jeopardy for financial reasons. Media reports this week indicated the two schools have committed to the WCHA for the 2019-20 season. But the long-range future appears shaky, motivating the seven schools to take action.

“These are seven institutions with tremendous history,” Kurtz said.

But he also indicated seven isn’t an ideal number for a league and would not play down talk of the new conference open to having other members. A major factor for other possible schools would be how long they may contractually be tied in with their current league.

Kurtz has been a consultant for the NHL and also for colleges exploring the possibility of starting NCAA Division 1 hockey programs. Two schools in particular are Illinois and Oakland University in Rochester. Mich.

“I would hope the schools are making progress to get to a point where they can make a decision,” he said.

Those comments raise speculation Illinois could be the eighth school in the Big Ten hockey conference and Oakland might be interested in the new league Ferris and the six schools are joining.

But Kurtz indicated additional news on the league “we hope will come sooner than later.”

It’s likely this will be within the next several months.

 

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Posted by John Raffel

John is a sports reporter with the Pioneer as well as the Herald Review and The Lake County Star. He also coordinates the weekly Pioneer sports outdoors page. He can be reached at (231) 592-8356 or by email at jraffel@pioneergroup.com.

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