NCHC says no to Arizona State, conference expansion tabled

In a somewhat surprising turn of events, after Arizona State had announced that it had applied for membership with the NCHC, the conference announced that it will not pursue expansion.

In a release from earlier today, the NCHC stated:

“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. 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.” – Commissioner Josh Fenton

Over the past few months, despite repeated denials from the NCHC, many speculated about the possibility of conference expansion. Minnesota State-Mankato first applied for conference membership a little more than a month ago and then last week, Arizona State had officially applied for membership after being rebuffed by the Big Ten. As a result, in many circles, it was all but a forgone conclusion that both the Mavericks and Sun Devils would be the next two members of the premier conference in college hockey.

In the end, it obviously became clear that the NCHC was already in a strong enough position that it did not need to add two more teams to remain competitive. After all, in the three years since it’s inception, it has sent no fewer than three teams to the NCAA Tournament and has had at least one representative at each Frozen Four in that span.

No conference is in as strong a position on the ice as the NCHC at the moment, so from a performance standpoint, it didn’t seem to make sense to bring in any other teams that could potentially dilute the strong competition top to bottom (yes, even CC).

The only factor that could have potentially swayed the decision the other way seemed to be the conference’s finances. If the conference were in dire straits financially, expansion to include Power Five member Arizona State would have been a no-brainer, regardless of the on-ice performance.

However, the NCHC isn’t struggling. It’s making enough money to operate and continue to help the current eight members grow on and off the ice. So essentially, expansion didn’t make sense from a financial point of view, either.

It was a fun few months thinking about making annual trips to Tempe to watch college hockey’s best take on the new kids on the block. In the end, the NCHC had to make the decision that made the most sense for the current members.

As some conferences have learned in the past five years, it’s not smart to expand just for expansion’s sake. There has to be an apparent and obvious need for more teams for expansion to make sense. That need just wasn’t there.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the conference from changing its mind in the next couple of years. If the NCHC continues to dominate, it may end up outgrowing its current set-up and the addition of another two teams could become necessary.

For the moment, though college hockey’s best conference is going to remain exactly what it has been for two years: the toughest meat grinder in the NCAA.

10 thoughts on “NCHC says no to Arizona State, conference expansion tabled”

  1. Great article, well-thought out. One thing they was mentioned in Joe Paisley’s story about this in the Gazette was the NCHC’s financial footing and their reliance on UND to make the Frozen Faceoff each year for revenue generation purposes. That makes me nervous; for the conference to put all its eggs in one basket, so to speak, is risky. UND will have down years at some point, it happened from 1991-1995. Could have adding a power conference school like ASU, even if they’re a young upstart, have helped mitigate that financial risk?

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    1. The entire NCAA depends on North Dakota being good right now. I don’t think that should make you any more nervous than it would anyone else. Adding ASU is still a risk right now. They don’t have solid, committed plans for building an arena at this point and that was a major sticking point in this whole process. Without a complete, devoted plan for a new arena, there was never going to be a deal. The NCHC made the cautious, smart choice here.

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      1. Yah-you’re absolutely right. Things have been working out great for the NCHC from many standpoints these past three seasons (financially, on-ice product, brand, etc). Now that they conference has tabled expansion (for now) I was just raising another question/issue to consider. Not a knock on any of these schools but imagine the financial ramifications of a Minneapolis based Frozen Faceoff with DU, CC, Miami, and Western. They’d be lucky to get 5,000 in attendance and probably 20% (just a guess) of those would be die-hard NCHC/college hockey fans from SCSU, UND, Omaha, and Duluth. How much money would a scenario like his end up costing the conference and draining money from the rainy day fund?

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  2. Hmmm…what shall ASU do now? You say they were already rejected by the Big Ten. Where do they end up, and are there any independent non-conference affiliated hockey programs left? It would be really unusual for a big school like ASU to have no options for a conference. Sounds like some poor planning on their part.

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  3. My guess is something happened behind the scenes as negotiations played out. Landing ASU is a huge win for the NCHC and brings another big market and big school to the league. Would students and fans prefer to buy tickets for a game against Minnesota State Mankato or ASU – which game would you want to see? The NCHC largely operates out of small markets with little TV money. When the B1G gets their act together, we may look back at this as a big mistake.

    That being said, I think it must have been a negotiation ‘power play’ that nixed the deal. Extremely unfortunate in my opinion.

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  4. The operative Fenton phrase here is “AT THIS TIME’. It’s not a permanent no. I don’t think ASU will join the WCHA, at least for another year.As soon as ASU gets an arena commitment that meets NCHC standards, I think they get admitted to the NCHC. I’m sure ASU thought this new arena deal would would be done by now, and the NCHC does not want to play league games 30 miles from the ASU campus, nor play in a 750 seat practice rink near ASU. ASU can still get good teams to come to Arizona, so there is no rush for them to join a conference. My guess is that ASU is still waiting on the Arizona Coyotes to finalize an NHL Arena, either in Tempe with ASU or somewhere else without ASU. If ASU and the Coyotes can work out an Arena deal together, it makes a lot of sense.

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