I wasn’t surprised to see that the WCHA voted Thursday to suspend its moratorium on expansion. I was surprised — and commissioner Bruce McLeod said he was, too — that the vote was unanimous.
You may ask: What’s the harm in lifting the moratorium? It doesn’t put the league on the hook to approve anyone.
That’s true, but the moratorium has in the past been the convenient way of parrying schools’ inquiries about the possibililty of joining. This move, and especially the 10-0 vote, signals that the WCHA schools are at least willing to listen to pitches from schools interested in joining. And in these interesting times for Division I college hockey, that needs to be noted as the right thing to do.
But a word of caution here: Just because the vote on the moratorium was 10-0 doesn’t mean a vote on admitting Bemidji State, which has already stepped up as the first contender, is a shoo-in. There are a lot of variables in play here, especially on the financial side of things. A question on purely hockey grounds would probably get the Beavers the eight votes they’ll need to become a WCHA member. But there are issues with profits and scheduling that need to be hammered out before any team will be added.
My thoughts are that Bemidji State’s program — and those from Niagara, Alabama-Huntsville and Robert Morris, as long as they’re committed long-term — can’t be allowed to die, but the WCHA also can’t play as an 11-team league. That means someone else is going to have to go in at the same time as the Beavers. And that just complicates things even more.