Bye WCHA. Hello Big Ten hockey conference.
The Big Ten on Monday announced it will form its own hockey conference starting in 2013-14. Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave the WCHA to join it, while Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State will switch from the CCHA.
The sixth member will be Penn State, which will start a Division I program in 2012-13.
The winner of the conference tournament will get an automatic bid to play in the 2014 NCAA tournament. Big Ten hockey conference teams will play a 20-game conference schedule, playing each team four times. That would leave room for 14 nonconference games to be scheduled.
There is one small hurdle for all this to happen, though. But it's a very low barrier.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors has to approve the establishment of men's hockey as an offical sport in June. But the University of Minnesota and the five other schools with hockey programs are all recommending a hockey confererence be formed. They are also recommending that a conference tournament be held in March 2014. Where will the tournament be held?
"To be determined," said Scott Chipman, a Big Ten spokesperson.
The catalyst for a Big Ten hockey conference was Penn State's announcement last September it would establish men's and women's ice programs starting with the 2012-13 season. Conference rules allow for a conference championship when six member schools sponsor a sport. The Nittany Lions will be the sixth Big Ten school with men's hockey.
"Minnesota is an original and proud member of the WCHA," Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi said. "We would depart with fond memories, and the sincere belief that many of the great WCHA rivalries that the Gophers have been a part of will continue through nonconference play."
The WCHA statement is here.
WCHA ANTICIPATED MOVE
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said the the 12-team conference, which will shrink to 10 teams, already has a tentative framework for an interlocking schedule with the Big Ten. He said on Saturday that the Gophers and Wisconsin both will need a lot of games to fill out their schedules.
The nonconference games, of course, will not mean quite as much.
Travel costs also will go up considerably for the Gophers when they have to fly to four of their five conference opponents. The team buses to Madison, Wis., and presumably will continue to do so.
During the 2010-11 hockey season, the Gophers flew only once, to a series at Colorado College. Usually they fly at least a few times, so this was an unusual season. But in the Big Ten hockey conference they will be flying at least four times minimum each season.
LIVE CHAT AT HIGH NOON WED.
Want to chat about Gophers hockey, the Big Ten hockey conference, the NCAA tournament. There's a place for you to go: www.startribune.com at noon on Wednesday. I know from a lot to a little about all those topics. So stop by to ask questiion or eavesdrop (it's OK) on our chat.
WCHA IN AWE OF SIOUX FANS
Doug Spencer, WCHA associate commissioner for public relations, said Monday that he was "totally in awe of the contgent of fans representing North Dakota. In all my years, I have never seen anything like that. It was remarkable support."
Spencer has worked at Final Fives (and Final Fours) since 1988.
He said preliminary reports indicate the Final Five average about 140 more fans per session that last year. He said that was quite a development, considering three of the six teams were from so far away, Alaska Anchorage, Denver and Colorado College.