A surprise announcement by seven of the 10 members of the WCHA collegiate hockey conference has sent shockwaves throughout the sport, and could result in major shake-ups while leaving certain programs in jeopardy. 

The seven schools — Minnesota State Mankato, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan — announced their intention in late June to depart the WCHA according to College Hockey News, leaving Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks and Alabama-Huntsville left hanging. 

The departing schools are clustered throughout the upper midwest, making travel to Alaska and Alabama more difficult than to schools close by. 

According to the Mining Journal, the move caught WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson by surprise. The move was reportedly a collaborative effort among the departing programs and consultant Dr. Morris Kurtz, who told the Journal that seven departing programs are hoping to create a new conference that would “enhance the academic and athletic experience of their student-athletes.”

The programs will adhere to WCHA bylaws and withdraw from the conference in 25 months. By giving advance notice, the programs will avoid having to pay exit fees. Meanwhile, the three remaining WCHA schools must decide how to move forward. 

“We’re evaluating where we’re at and to see what steps we can take to continue the WCHA for long-term success,” Robertson told the Journal. “The three schools, Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska-Fairbanks and Alabama-Huntsville are committed to making the WCHA as good as it can be and we will evaluate how we could potentially add some additional teams.”

The departing schools will reportedly seek an eighth program to launch the as-of-yet unnamed new conference.

Jason Scott is Online Managing Editor of Athletic Business.