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WIAC hockey teams to withdraw from NCHA

MADISON--The Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) announced Wednesday that its men's and women's ice hockey teams will be leaving the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association (NCHA) and will compete solely under the auspices of the WIAC effective with the 2014-15 academic year.

UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Superior are charter members of the men's NCHA which was formed in 1980. UW-Stevens Point and UW-Stout joined the NCHA in 1987 and 1996, respectively.

River Falls, Eau Claire and Superior, along with Stevens Point formed the women's NCHA in 2000.

WIAC Commissioner Gary Karner noted that the current budgetary challenges confronting all WIAC institutions and the composition of the NCHA, a single-sport conference comprised of institutions that are members of six different multi-sport conferences as well as five institutions that are members for women's ice hockey only, were among a number of factors that led to a decision that is deemed to be in the long-term, best interests of the WIAC.

The Wisconsin Department of Administration announced last fall that the University of Wisconsin System would need to pay back an estimated $65.7 million, in addition to a previous $12 million budget cut.

Karner said 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.

Karner commented 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.

"We (WIAC) recognize that our decision to withdraw from the NCHA will have a profound impact on the future of that conference," he said in a statement released by the conference on Wednesday. "Out of respect for the non-WIAC member institutions of the NCHA, we had no interest in leaving the conference without providing sufficient notice and it is 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."

The decision leaves the two remaining NCHA men's teams--St. Norbert College of DePere and the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth--looking for a new home, possibly in a revamped NCHA. Six women's teams are in the same situation.

NCHA Commissioner Bill Kronschabel said later Wednesday that the remaining teams will explore all options to remain viable.

"The NCHA has a long history of being a strong and formidable college hockey conference," he said. "The withdrawal of the WIAC teams from the NCHA in 2014 will definitely alter the landscape for Division III 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 Division III hockey in the West."

One concession the WIAC schools will make in leaving the NCHA is giving up an automatic qualifying position to the NCAA Division III men's playoff field. Conferences must have a minimum of seven members to earn an automatic berth through a league postseason tournament. The four WIAC members not sponsoring hockey--UW-La Crosse, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Platteville and UW-Whitewater--are not expected to add the sport.

The NCHA began play in 1980 when River Falls, Eau Claire Superior, Bemidji State, Mankato State (Minnesota State-Mankato), and St. Cloud State left the now defunct International College Hockey Association and Western Intercollegiate Hockey Association to form a new league.