Seven members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association — including Bemidji State and Minnesota State Mankato — initiated the process to leave the league and form a new men’s conference that would begin play in the 2021-22 season.

In an announcement released Friday through athletics consultant Morris Kurtz, a former St. Cloud State athletic director, the seven schools — which also include Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan — independently submitted formal letters of notice to the WCHA office initiating the withdrawal process. The seven teams will play in the WCHA in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

The three current WCHA men’s teams that aren’t involved in the move are the ones that are the furthest away from the Bloomington-based conference — Alabama Huntsville, Alaska and Alaska Anchorage.

In Kurtz’s announcement, the new league would “focus on improving regional alignment … while building natural rivalries within a more compact geographic footprint.”

Kurtz, in a phone interview, added that travel wasn’t the only reason for the move. “You want to associate with what you feel are like-minded institutions in terms of commitment to facilities, to funding, to coaching salaries. This exciting endeavor is something these seven institutions feel very strongly about.’’

Kurtz said the new conference doesn’t have a name yet. “We hope to have that announced very soon,” he said.

WCHA men’s Commissioner Bill Robertson issued a statement, concluding with: “While this news is disappointing, the WCHA will work to assure that any members that do withdraw do so in accordance with WCHA Bylaws.”

Reached by phone, Robertson let his statement stand but emphasized the move by the seven schools is for men’s hockey only. It does not apply to the WCHA women’s league.