The National Collegiate Hockey Conference board of directors denied membership to Minnesota State Mankato and Arizona State, commissioner Josh Fenton announced Wednesday.
“After careful consideration and a thorough vetting process, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Board of Directors announced the Conference will not move forward with membership expansion at this time,” commissioner Josh Fenton said through a statement. “We will continue to be attentive to the college hockey landscape and any future changes that may come. However, our focus right now is guided by what we can do to strengthen our current membership into the future.”
Fenton later told the Star Tribune that the conference's athletic directors unanimously settled on this decision after a six-plus hour meeting last week in Minneapolis and made their recommendation to the board of directors, which is built of the school's presidents and chancellors.
Addressing this topic, however, has been part of the conference's meetings for the past year, Fenton added, and the recommendation "was more about us and not so much about the others."
The announcement comes after reports that Minnesota State Mankato and new NCAA Division 1 program Arizona State applied for NCHC membership. Fenton said he informed both schools of their decision early Wednesday.
"I had individual phone conversations ... with both of those schools simply alluding to the fact that the board of directors' desire is to focus on our current membership at this time and that we'll continue to be attentive to changes that may come in the national landscape of college hockey in the future that could potentially have us reopen or readdress the topic. But at this point in time, given everything we know, we're not moving forward with expansion."
Fenton said the conversations were short and respectful.
The young eight-team conference entering its fourth season has been one of the most successful in college hockey over the past several years. North Dakota won the national championship last season and 13 teams have qualified for the NCAA tournament since the conference started in 2013-2014. In 2014-2015, the conference sent six teams, 75 percent of its membership (an NCAA record), to the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota Division 1 programs St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth are NCHC members, and the conference tournament is hosted in Minneapolis at Target Center.
Though this statement ends any discussion about expansion in the near future, it surely doesn’t mean the conference won’t consider expanding in the next few years. ASU’s application letter states that it seeks membership starting in 2018-2019, so that gives the conference two years to change its mind.
The Sun Devils hope to have a new stadium in place for the 2018-2019 season and by then should be acclimated to Division 1 hockey. They started the transition from a club sport last season and will play a full Division 1 schedule this year.
Minnesota State is arguably already built for the NCHC's high standards, but adding a ninth team would affect the healthy scheduling system and playoff format the conference has built with eight teams. It would make more sense to add two teams at the same time if the conference decides to revisit the applications down the road.
"There is no timetable for reopening the topic," Fenton said. "Six months, a year, three years, five years, or some other time frame, that's not something I can answer right now. ... We want to be thinking about it in terms of what's in the best interest for college hockey as a whole, but also what's in the best interest for the NCHC. So we'll see how things change and how circumstances may change in the future, and if there is a need to reopen it, that will be a board decision to reopen it at that time."