WCHA breakup will leave UAA jilted

Beth Bragg

Playing now in college hockey: "Survivor: WCHA."

UAA athletic director Steve Cobb said Thursday he will attend a meeting in Minnesota next week that will bring together athletic directors from the five Western Collegiate Hockey Association schools that would remain if reports prove true that five other members of the 12-team conference intend to form their own super conference in 2013.

Cobb said he will join athletic directors from Michigan Tech, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State-Mankato and Bemidji State as well as WCHA administrators for the meeting.

The gathering was planned amid growing reports that the WCHA, which has been around since 1951, faces the defection of five teams.

"It does appear the WCHA is breaking up," Cobb said. "We're confident enough about it that we're going to Minnesota next week to talk."

It's been known for awhile that the league will lose stalwarts Minnesota and Wisconsin in 2013-14 when the Big 10 hockey conference debuts.

But now, according to Cobb and several newspaper reports that cite unnamed sources, half of the remaining WCHA teams will soon announce their decision to leave the league and form what Cobb is calling "a super six conference" for the 2013-14 season.

The teams are North Dakota, Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha. A sixth team, Miami of Ohio, would come from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, Cobb said.

"I don't think anybody saw this coming," he said.

A call to WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod was not immediately returned Thursday. Cobb said that at the annual WCHA meeting in April, there wasn't a hint that any school was thinking about leaving the league.

"At our meeting in April we voted to extend an invitation to Miami and Notre Dame," Cobb said, referring to a pair of CCHA teams. "That passed with 100 percent of the vote. Nobody said they were unhappy. We left the April meeting and basically some of them contacted Notre Dame and Miami and said, 'Don't take the WCHA invitation, we're going to invite you to join our super league.'

"I blame everybody for being less than honest with their own league members. It's a really sneaky back-door deal."

The shakeup comes a couple months after the Big 10 conference announced it will field a hockey league for the 2013-14 season. That decision will take Minnesota and Wisconsin out of the WCHA and Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State out of the CCHA and put them in a conference with Penn State, which is creating a hockey program.

If left with just five teams, the WCHA would lose its automatic berth to the NCAA tournament; six teams are required to receive an automatic berth.

The CCHA could be left with fewer than six teams too. Currently home to 11 teams, the CCHA will lose three to the Big 10 and might lose as many as three to the new super conference, according to a Thursday report by the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.

Citing multiple unnamed sources, the Herald reported that two other CCHA schools, Notre Dame and Western Michigan, could also be part of a super conference. It also reported that North Dakota will join Duluth, Denver, Colorado College and Omaha in the super conference.

Where this leaves the WCHA -- and UAA -- is uncertain.

The WCHA and CCHA could merge, Cobb said, which would put Alaska's two college hockey teams in the same league. But whether a single conference will want two Alaska teams is the question. Back when UAA and UAF gained entry to conferences, the WCHA took UAA and the CCHA took UAF so that neither league wound up with both Alaska teams.

"It's tough selling two trips to Alaska in one year," Cobb said.

In the meantime, the WCHA will remain a 12-team league for another two seasons -- although whether that means it will be one big happy family remains to be seen.

"I'm not offended at all they want to start a conference. I'm very offended at the way it was handled," Cobb said. "We've got two years left, and I assume it's going to be very tense and very uncomfortable."

Reach Beth Bragg at bbragg@adn.com or 257-4335.