New Summit League Commissioner Josh Fenton Eyeing Alliance or Merger with NCHC?

It is strictly speculation at this point but some media outlets and social media sources are anticipating either a working arrangement or outright merger between the Summit League and the NCHC. Add the double-hatting by Fenton who is working as a consultant to the Summit League effective January 1 while finishing out the college hockey season as commissioner of the NCHC, to the reality that there is no immediate public effort to replace his role within the NCHC, this speculation is understandable.

A potential merger of the Summit League with the singularly focused and massively successful NCHC may be problematic for some current Summit League members who offer sports in other conferences. College Hockey News postulates Miami and Western Michigan could use this merger as an opportunity to flee to the CCHA while St. Thomas and Augustana could be their replacements. This move would also allow NCHC members St. Cloud and Minnesota Duluth to transition from DII to DI status with an invitation from the Summit League.

In other words, there are plenty of moving parts involved and it would take years for this plan to come to fruition, but it’s not entirely all that far-fetched.

Fenton offered his thoughts on the Summit League’s future in the presser below. Fenton emphasized the Summit League’s “strong foundational base” and his early efforts will focus on the reaffirmation by current members of their long-term commitment to the conference while looking at membership and expansion. As with the NCHC, Fenton will continue to focus his efforts on the fan experience and student-athlete experience. Just to be clear, though, Fenton gave no indication of an impending merger between the NCHC and the Summit League.

Only three schools in the Summit League currently offer hockey – Denver, North Dakota and Omaha. Schools such as Oral Roberts and Western Illinois are unlikely to add DI hockey and UMKC seems unlikely to have the financial resources to do so. Of course, as with many other sports in the Summit League conference, hockey may not be required of all members. However, the conference could require current and new members to keep all Conference sports in the Summit League or impose a steep penalty for an exit.

The potential downside for Denver is an all-or-nothing option that leaves DU playing in the Dakotas for their primary conference sports. Playing NCHC members North Dakota and Omaha in non-hockey sports in the Summit League has been met with a rather large thud by students, Denver sports fans, and student-athletes who (correctly) feel that there is little alignment between member schools and DU. Unless Denver could be an affiliate hockey member in a merged Summit League, they may find it difficult to extricate themselves and move to a more appropriate conference with “like schools” at a future date.

Another risk is moving from a highly successful ‘hockey-centric’ conference to one with many other priorities. Could this water down the best collegiate hockey conference in the land? The answer is likely yes (See: the Big 10).

In an entirely new and likely unprecedented scenario, we could see Fenton run both conferences and share staff resources to optimize overall conference resources. It’s an intriguing idea but how would ‘non-hockey’ members feel about picking up the tab for supporting hockey? This could prove to be a challenging issue and alienate non-hockey members.

The final wildcard is football – a non-starter for DU. A number of Summit League members sponsor football. Should the Summit make the extremely unlikely move of adding football, resources will be split both on campuses and at the league office and would pose a significant barrier that would surely be met by Denver’s objections.

No doubt, DU will have to be agile to meet the ever-changing conference environment. It could just be a coincidence that Josh Fenton moved to the Summit League from the NCHC. However, where there is smoke, there may be fire and only time will tell how this will all unfold.

4 thoughts on “New Summit League Commissioner Josh Fenton Eyeing Alliance or Merger with NCHC?”

  1. I am really hoping there is no merger between the two, as such a move would basically handcuff DU to the Summit League in all sports, which should not be DU’s all-sports long term ambition…

    The NCHC is THE premier conference in college hockey. Having non-hockey ADs, especially cost-containment mindset mid-major ADs voting on hockey matters is a scary thought for any hockey school, more than offsetting the advantages that a multi-sport conference might bring (e.g. more administrators, NCAA national meeting clout).

    Of course, as the NCAA reorganizes itself in the new landscape of college sports, it’s always a bit scary for a non-football school like DU…

  2. ASU is a certainly the biggest prize for any league with the sparking new new arena they are building, especially given the big new Phoenix market, the major sports brand the Sun Devils have and the warm weather destination they provide for visiting fans. A major upgrade for sure, if the NCHC can land them…

    However, I am not so sure ASU will need to choose to be any league. Next year, they have 24 home games scheduled at their new arena, with whomever they want to play. I am sure the Sun Devils can continue to play top competition, at home, for as long as they want, making more money with more home games and travelling less than any other team. They don’t need a strong league for guaranteed games or PWR purposes.

    Minnesota State would add very little. Yes, they have a great team now, but their record is fattened annually by playing a lot of below average teams in the new “CCHA”. Their improvement as a program was largely made possible by being in a weakened WCHA conference, after the NCHC schools left.

    If the Mavs came over to the NCHC, they will soon become a bottom feeder again in the NCHC meat grinder, as they were in the old WCHA before 2013. Mankato is a small town in Minnesota that adds little to the NCHC’s profile, either, in terms of new markets or better exposure, as the Minnesota market is already saturated with two NCHC schools (SCSU and UMD). Finally, MSUM is a another low budget D-II school with a cost-containment mindset – exactly the kind of school that the NCHC was founded to break away from…

    I hope Miami and WMU stay in the NCHC. They provide important geographic reach adding the Cincinnati and Michigan markets (I don’t want see the NCHC become a Minnesota-centric bus league), and two full D-I schools to the NCHC, which helps for TV (Miami brought CBS Sports to the NCHC) and for NCAA voting matters, as only full D-I schools can vote on D-I matters.

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