KALAMAZOO, Mich. -- The National Collegiate Hockey Conference doesn't launch until 2013, but the league's formation has already begun. The eight teams -- UMD, Colorado College, Denver, Miami, Nebraska Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State, and Western Michigan -- have been announced, and the league hired its first commissioner Wednesday. Former USOC head Jim Scherr is going to be front and center as the league's top executive.
Scherr spoke about the job Wednesday in Colorado Springs. There were a few things brought up that I found noteworthy. I also have some unsolicited thoughts on what the league needs to do as it moves toward Opening Night in October 2013.
Scherr is not a hockey guy.
I kind of expected this. To get this right, the NCHC is more in need of a commissioner that has a business/marketing background. Hiring a hockey guy as a commissioner is not the way to start a new hockey league.
There are relationships to be forged. There are deals to be cut. You need someone with business acumen, not someone who played hockey for 30 years and has no background running an organization or negotiating these types of arrangements.
I don't intend to demean hockey in any way here, but it's a lot easier to teach someone like Scherr -- who might not have a hockey background but is also no stranger to the game -- a thing or two about hockey than it would be to teach someone else the nuances of business deals.
Not only that, but the bulk of Scherr's work in the runup to the league's launch will involve things that have little to do with hockey, but a lot to do with how the league will conduct its business.
Scherr's most important move in the short term will be hiring a hockey operations person.
Scherr's lack of a hockey background is a huge one. He needs a right-hand man who has such a background and can make the hockey-related decisions.
He shouldn't be expected to decide on a league scheduling format, how the schedule will work, or who will oversee the league's officials.
This person will be -- for many fans -- the main face of the league, the person responsible for the most important decisions.
(This will shock you, but most hockey fans don't give a crap about corporate sponsorships or marketing. That's silly. They want to know how the league will work on the ice.)
I would also lean against hiring someone who has ties to the NCHC members, just to eliminate the perception of a good ol' boy network in the league office. It's an issue that helped drive a wedge between the WCHA and the departing schools, and it's silly that they would start up their new league with more of the same.
This isn't to say there aren't some wonderfully qualified candidates within the league. My only point is that an independent voice could work wonders for a lot of the NCHC teams' fans, many of whom are still confused about why the hell this is happening to start with.
Someone in the league needs to figure out what to do with online video.
I've seen systems for online video that work quite well. I've never heard a complaint, for example, about Denver's Pioneer Vision, even though fans who want to watch their favorite hockey team play at Denver have to remember to cancel their subscription before it auto renews (just a dumb system, in my opinion).
On the other hand, I get a complaint about America One about once a month, and I don't even have anything to do with it. No one is perfect, but one of the things the NCHC can do is package its eight member schools to do an online streaming deal that benefits everyone.
Fans can probably give up on the idea of getting the games for free. However, I think it's reasonable to assume the league is better off doing one deal for streaming. It centralizes everything and makes it less confusing for fans. It also makes the package a more attractive buy for a fan. If a game isn't on television, fans know they can go to the league website and watch it over the interwebs.
Scherr will be in Kalamazoo for Friday's UMD-Western Michigan game. I hope we'll be able to talk to him on the air. I'll update the blog if I get any information on that.