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WCHA wraps up three days of meetings in Detroit, but questions remain

Nine-team playoff format could cause contreversy

June 15, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - The nine schools that will make up the WCHA come 2013-14 wrapped up three days of league meetings on Thursday in Detroit, and while some questions were answered about the future, others remain.

The league announced it will play a 28-game league schedule in 13-14 with eight to 10 nonconference games schools can schedule depending on how many trips are required to Alaska.

The NCAA limits teams to 34 regular-season games, however, series played on the road at Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage - both WCHA members in 13-14 - don't count against that limit, so WCHA schools will get two or four extra games depending on whether or not they play one series in Alaska or two.

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NMU head coach Walt Kyle said a 28-game league schedule for NMU was critical so it can bring nonconference opponents into the Berry Events Center year in and year out.

"We need a 28-game league schedule just to protect some home games," Kyle said.

"It's real difficult and it will become more difficult to get teams to travel up here that aren't league members. We need that protection of four dates to assure our fans."

Kyle said ideally that NMU - which already has road contests at Wisconsin and at North Dakota in 13-14 - will have a minimum of four nonconference home games each season, possibly even six if he can convince enough quality opponents to overlook the Wildcats' remote location in the Upper Peninsula.

"I could schedule 10 nonconference games every year," Kyle said. "The question is, how many of those can I get in Marquette? That's the difficult thing.

"What's happening is a lot of these schools - Michigan, Michigan State - they don't want to come up here on a reciprocal basis and play two here and two there. They want to play, for example, two here then have us go down there for four."

The league also agreed on a nine-team playoff format that will put five teams in the league championship tournament at a site yet to be determined.

WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said the league is still investigating possible sites, but also told The Mining Journal on Tuesday prior to the start of the league meetings that the WCHA is "pretty firm" on one site, but there are still loose ends that need to be tied up on an alternate venue for the tournament with multiple sites - but not the Resch Center in Green Bay - still in play.

"We have had very productive meetings with the coaches, athletic directors and presidents all present and we are united in moving forward to ensure the continued success of the WCHA and its member teams," McLeod said in a prepared statement released Thursday afternoon. He did not return calls to The Mining Journal before press time.

"We are also engaged in ongoing discussions with various venues for our flagship event - the WCHA Final Five - and hope to finalize those championship plans as soon as possible."

McLeod also told The Mining Journal prior to the meetings the league was eyeing only four teams in the championship weekend, but in the end the league went with five.

Seeds No. 2-9 will face off in a first-round series with the winners and the regular-season champion advancing to the WCHA Final Five weekend. Teams will be reseeded after the first round and the two lowest seeds with meet in a play-in game. The winner of the play-in will meet the No. 1 seed in the semis while the second and third seeds battle for the other spot in the tournament championship.

"The goal is to have a Final Five," NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said. "Obviously, historically, the WCHA has called their championship the Final Five. The coaches and administrators felt it was important to have all the teams involved in the playoffs."

The league also agreed that the WCHA Presidents' Council will act as the league's board of directors while the athletic directors serve as the league's management council.

The league also discussed expansion and identifying potential future members as the league looks to get to 10 members if possible. Future public relations and marketing initiatives were discussed as well for the 13-14 season.

The nine schools set to play in the WCHA come 13-14 are Northern Michigan, Michigan Tech, Lake Superior State, Ferris State, Bowling Green State, Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Anchorage, Bemidji State and Minnesota State Mankato.

"It was good," Kyle said. "I don't think there was a lot of stuff that got done. There is a lot of stuff that has to get done, but to me it was beneficial just to sit down and philosophically talk about where we are and where we want to go."

Did the WCHA solve its postseason Alaska dilemma?

An interesting twist to the WCHA's 2013-14 playoff structure was revealed Thursday night, showing how a league of mostly NCAA Division II schools can afford to conduct a postseason tournament with two schools from Alaska.

Bemidji State athletic director Rock Goeb told Jack Hittinger of the Bemidji Pioneer that Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage will play each other in the first round of the WCHA playoffs every season, unless either the Nanooks or Seawolves win the regular season title.

Northern Michigan University athletic director Forrest Karr, who just this week joined Northern from Alaska Fairbanks, was unable to comment on the report, because specifics of the league's postseason plan were to be approved by the league presidents.

Calls to NMU President David Haynes and WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod were not returned by press time.

A Nanooks-Seawolves first-round matchup every year would save the league, which shares postseason costs for flights either to or from Alaska. It would also guarantee an Alaska school in the WCHA Final Five each season.

A press release put out by the WCHA on Thursday only said the league would have a nine-team playoff format that culminates with the WCHA Final Five.

To get to five, the league's Nos. 2-9 teams will play in the first round with the top seed receiving a bye to the semifinals.



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