NCHC Announces December 1st Omaha Bubble Return, 4-Team Divisions for 2020-2021

Praise be! College hockey is coming! Mark your calendars for December 1, 2020, because folks, NCHC Hockey has officially set a start date for the 2020-2021 season. As discussed earlier this week, it was known that the NCHC would start the upcoming season in a bubble, or “pod” as the conference is calling it, either in Grand Forks, North Dakota or in Omaha, Nebraska. We now know, as of this morning, that the season-opening, three-week bubble will officially take place in Omaha and each team will play 10 games during the event for a total of 40 games.

In addition to the bubble announcement, the conference laid out plans for playing this season with two distinct east/west divisions with the stated goal of minimizing travel this season. The west division, Denver’s division, will include Colorado College, North Dakota, and Omaha while the east will include Miami, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, and Western Michigan. Over the course of the 26-game conference schedule, teams will play division opponents six times each while playing teams in the opposite division twice, all occurring during the season-opening bubble in Omaha. That means that 8 of each team’s 10 bubble games will be against teams in the opposite division. Each team’s remaining 16 divisional conference games will be played on campus sites after the New Year.

You can read the entire statement and details regarding testing protocols below  or you can go to the NCHC’s website to read it here:

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – After thorough discussion and thoughtful planning over the past few months, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) has finalized its plans for the 2020-21 season. The 26-game conference schedule and two-part format, which includes utilizing a centralized location (“Pod”) for all NCHC games to start the season, was unanimously approved by the NCHC’s Board of Directors on Thursday, Oct. 15.

With the focus on the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, staff, and officials, the Conference has intentionally attempted to limit team travel. Because of this, NCHC teams have been divided into two divisions based on geography for 2020-21 scheduling purposes: East and West. The East Division consists of Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan. The West Division consists of Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota and Omaha. Teams will play each of their divisional opponents six times (18 games total) and each cross-division opponent twice (8 games total), with all cross-division games taking place in the Pod to alleviate travel. The second portion of the season will then take place January through March, with all divisional foes playing each other at home and on the road.

“Throughout the past eight months we have learned to adjust and think creatively about how we live our personal and professional lives,” NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton said. “I’m proud of our membership for their entrepreneurial spirit to build a concept grounded in health and safety that we believe gives a group of deserving student-athletes the best opportunity to conduct a successful season.”

The Conference will commence the pursuit of the Penrose Cup on Tuesday, Dec. 1 in the Pod, which will take place in Omaha, Nebraska, where the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Baxter Arena will host all eight NCHC teams. Competition in the Pod will include 10 games per team (40 games total) and run through the first three weeks of December, with games held throughout each week. In addition to the cross-division games at Baxter Arena, each team will also play two games against one divisional foe in the Pod.

Overall medical support and COVID-19 testing for all participating student-athletes, staff and officials in the Pod will be conducted through the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC), located in Omaha. Medical protocols and testing strategies for the entire season are currently being developed with top medical professionals from UNMC and the Global Center for Health Security.

“NCHC Presidents and Chancellors have been committed to finding ways for our student-athletes to return to the ice safely. We believe this plan accomplishes that,” said Greg Crawford, Miami University President and Chair of the NCHC Board of Directors. “On behalf of our Board of Directors, I want to thank the leadership of Dr. Jeffrey Gold at the University of Nebraska Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center for providing their institutional resources and medical expertise toward helping the Conference start the season successfully.”

The second portion of the conference slate will begin in the New Year and take place in all home NCHC venues. Following a break after the Pod, all eight teams will resume play the first weekend in January with weekend series through the conclusion of the scheduled regular season on March 5-6. Teams will play 16 games during the second part of the season, all against divisional foes, with eight games at home and eight games on the road. In addition, teams will have multiple and consistent bye weekends during the travel portion of the season to allow for flexibility in the schedule.

“Given the myriad challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created, this unique approach to scheduling should optimize the chances for a safe and successful hockey season,” said Trev Alberts, Omaha’s Vice Chancellor for Athletics. “We have a great partner in the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who will help us take all of the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff in the Pod. We know it will be a busy three weeks, but our staff is very excited to make this a marquee event for the NCHC and college hockey.”

With the Pod taking place during the first three weeks of December, some NCHC member institutions will have already completed fall semester classes, while other member schools will be offering the majority of their classes through remote learning during that time. Any academic support needed by student-athletes while in the Pod will be provided by University of Nebraska Omaha staff. Game schedules in the Pod will be created with each school’s final examination period in mind, limiting teams’ competition schedule during a school’s scheduled final exam week.

As always, nearly every conference game in 2020-21, including games in the Pod, will be available with a subscription on NCHC.tv. More information on NCHC.tv subscription packages and subscription renewals will be provided in the coming weeks. All auto-renewal subscription charges have been paused for the time being.

“We are excited to finally bring NCHC hockey back to our passionate fans,” Fenton said. “This season will be unique and unprecedented, but one where we will connect to and engage college hockey fans with NCHC content all season long.”

Complete conference schedules, including match-ups, game dates and bye weekends for each team, along with the NCHC’s Return to Play protocol and overall COVID-19 testing plans, will be released in the coming weeks. At this time, no changes are planned for the 2021 NCHC Tournament. Any decision on possible non-conference games will be made at a later date.

We will be sure to keep you posted on Denver’s schedule as more details are released and the timing of each matchup and series comes into focus. But for now, mark your calendars for December 1st! The NCHC is coming back!


Photo of DU Hockey celebrating a goal courtesy of DU Athletics

2 thoughts on “NCHC Announces December 1st Omaha Bubble Return, 4-Team Divisions for 2020-2021”

  1. Excellent solution for a terrible problem.

    The league (and schools) are still going to lose a bunch of money this year, as travel savings will not replace the bubble costs and the loss of gate revenue, but at least there should be some hockey played, which is better than the alternative.

    Personally, while I normally love non-league play, I don’t think the NCHC should allow it this year, in order to save competitive schedule parity among league schools, due to travel proximity issues. A school like North Dakota or St. Cloud is a bus ride away from a host of potential non-league opponents, while DU and CC only have Air Force within driving distance. Since nobody else is flying for non-league play this year, allowing interleague play would effectively penalize DU and CC for location, hampering their ability to play better non league opponents, thus hampering the Pairwise rankings for DU and CC.

  2. Looking forward to seeing what the NCHC TV package will cost. The news release says they’ll announce that in the coming weeks. I expect I’ll take the plunge this year.

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