First, North Dakota cut women's hockey. Now, the top college conference in the sport has gone public, asking for money.
In another sign of the financial concerns gripping women's college hockey, the WCHA Women's League on Thursday announced the launch of a RallyMe crowdfunding page.
The goal is to offset membership costs for the league's seven remaining teams: the Gophers, Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State Mankato, Minnesota Duluth, Ohio State and Wisconsin.
The league has produced 15 of the 17 national titles — six for the Gophers — since the NCAA began crowning a women's hockey champion in 2001.
"We're not in a dire financial situation," said Katie Million, the WCHA women's commissioner. "We're just trying to be proactive. As schools get less funding, their budgets are tightening. We just want to do everything we can in our power to lessen the burden of what they need to pay us financially."
Coaches such as the Gophers' Brad Frost and Bemidji State's Jim Scanlan were quick to say their individual programs aren't on the chopping block. But both supported the WCHA's decision to make an unprecedented public plea to help lower league dues, which were $87,000 per school in 2015-16 and will increase now that North Dakota is out of the league.
"We're on very solid footing at the University of Minnesota," said Frost, who has won four NCAA titles in nine seasons at the Gophers helm. "But there are a lot of athletic departments throughout the country that are not as secure as we are."
The Gophers, Wisconsin and Ohio State programs are all part of hulking athletic departments, each projected to receive more than $50 million in annual Big Ten revenue sharing next year.
That makes it easier to pay the nonrevenue sports bills. In 2015-16, when the Gophers women's hockey team won another NCAA title, the program produced $350,586 in revenue and had $2,368,675 in expenses, for a net loss of about $2.02 million, according to their NCAA Financial Report.
The Gophers volleyball team had a similar net loss that year, and the women's basketball team lost even more money. Most years, the school's only money-making sports are football, men's basketball and men's hockey.
Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State, Bemidji State and Minnesota Duluth operate with smaller women's hockey budgets than the rest of their WCHA counterparts. So trimming thousands from their league expenses "could make a huge difference," Scanlan said.
Million said she hopes this campaign raises awareness that the WCHA is a 501(c)-3, nonprofit organization, meaning all donations are tax deductible.
"Every little bit helps with donations and sponsorships," said Million, whose league's annual budget is about $700,000.
On the RallyMe site, the WCHA lists a goal of raising $50,000 toward its operations fund, $25,000 for its annual awards banquet and $20,000 toward broadcasting the 2018 Final Faceoff championship game.
Million said a successful fundraising campaign could help expansion as well.
"The more exposure we get, the better it is for us to do a sales job on a potential new member," she said. "We're really hopeful that we'll get back to an eight-team league relatively soon and maybe even more than that."
Without North Dakota, the NCAA is down to 34 women's hockey teams.
"If it can happen there, I think people are concerned it can happen anywhere," Frost said.
Scanlan said North Dakota's decision to cut women's hockey back in March "opened up a lot of eyes. I don't think any of us are naive enough to think it couldn't happen somewhere else."