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WIAC schools to leave NCHA conference

February 17, 2012

The UW-River Falls men’s and women’s hockey teams will join with the other Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) schools to leave the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) effective as of the 2014-15 academic year.

The move was announced on Feb. 15 as part of the WIAC’s cost reduction plan. Now, the five men’s teams (UWRF, UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire, UWStevens Point and UW-Superior) and four women’s teams (UWRF, Eau Claire, Stevens Point and Superior) will compete solely under the WIAC.

“UW-River Falls has enjoyed a long and successful association with the NCHA,” said Falcon Athletic Director Roger Ternes. “However, ongoing budget constraints have forced UWRF, and every institution within the University System, to review their financial mode of operation. We are confident UWRF will continue to maximize our competitive opportunities and provide a quality experience for everyone associated with our programs. This resolution also enables us to move forward with like institutions that share and value the WIAC mission.”

WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner stated on the WIAC website that the decision to leave the NCHA is a difficult one given the history and success of the league and the relationships and rivalries that have been fostered over the years. River Falls, Eau Claire and Superior are charter members of the men’s NCHA, which was formed in 1980. These same three institutions along with UW-Stevens Point formed the women’s NCHA in 2000.

However, both Ternes and Karner believe that the overall quality of hockey, competitiveness of the games, and sustainability of the WIAC’s hockey programs will remain.

“Our intention to engage in a dialogue over the next two years that will ensure the viability of Division III men’s and women’s ice hockey in the upper Midwest for many years to come,” added Karner.

Ternes added that while this decision may have come to a surprise to many hockey fans and followers, it was a plan that serves the needs of UWRF and of the student athletes. He also notes that given the current economic situation, this solution was one that could have been foreseen. “WIAC coaches, athletic directors and chancellors have been engaged in ongoing budget dialogue for a number of years. This decision parallels the WIAC cost reduction plan implemented four years ago and did not come as a surprise. We believe this decision is in the best interest of UWRF and our student athletes,” said Ternes.

By keeping the conference play limited to schools within Wisconsin, member schools will save in travel costs. The NCHA comprised of teams as far away as Michigan to schools such as Marian and Finlandia University.

Rob Silvers, a sports broadcaster for the campus radio station, WRFW, stated that the move has potential playoff implications. “I think its a very interesting move and will be fun to watch as it develops. Right now the UW schools would be left without an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament, as you need seven teams and there is currently just plans for five teams in men’s and four in women’s,” said Silvers.

Previously, the winner of the NCHA playoffs would receive an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, making it one of the most prestigious conferences in the United States.

UWRF Sports Information Director Jim Thies said that all the chancellors of the competing schools have signed and agreed to the decision.

Karner added that the WIAC elected to make the announcement at this time in order to provide all current NCHA members ample opportunity to determine future conference alignments and to address scheduling concerns, according to statements released on the WIAC website.

NCHA Commissioner Bill Kronschnabel said in a statement put forth on the NCHA website that the changes leave the door wide open for what the remaining seven NCHA schools have left for options.

“The NCHA has a long history of being a strong and formidable college hockey conference. The withdrawal of the WIAC teams from the NCHA in 2014 will definitely alter the landscape for DIII Men’s hockey in the West. I would expect the remaining members to fully explore all options during the next two years and proceed in a manner consistent with their own institutional best interests and the best interests of DIII hockey (Men’s and Women’s) in the West.”

Both Joe Cranston, the UWRF women’s head coach and Steve Freeman, the men’s coach, offered no comments.