For the newly formed National Collegiate Hockey Conference, establishing a home base in Colorado Springs means a number of things.
For starters, it places the NCHC in the ancestral home of NCAA hockey, just a short distance from the former site of the Broadmoor World Arena, the site of the sport’s first 10 NCAA Championship tournaments. It also places the conference — which will begin play in the fall of 2013 — in close proximity to the headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Committee and a number of U.S. national sports federations including USA Hockey and USA Wrestling.
As it happens, it also means that the conference’s new commissioner won’t have much trouble getting around town.
On Wednesday, the NCHC announced that Jim Scherr, former CEO of the USOC and a man who’s spent more than two decades in Colorado Springs, will serve as the eight-team conference’s first commissioner.
“I think Colorado Springs makes a tremendous home,” Scherr said after being introduced by Brad Faison, athletic director at future NCHC member North Dakota. “I’ve lived here for almost 25 years, and the community has a tremendous amount to offer to any sport organization. It’s a fantastic place to be located.”
Scherr doesn’t have quite the same level of experience with college hockey that he has with the conference’s home, but with the eight member schools – Colorado College, Denver, Miami (Ohio), Minnesota Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan – accounting for 16 NCAA Championships since the first one was awarded in 1948, Scherr knew a tremendous opportunity when he saw it.
“Not only do you have eight tremendously competitive schools,” Scherr said, “but you have eight schools that have made a singular commitment to the sport of hockey at the highest levels. You also have such tremendous assets and tremendous markets that you can use to benefit the schools and the conference, just from a marketing, revenue-generation and television standpoint. Given all those ingredients this represents something that could be a new landmark for collegiate sports.”
Of course, the establishment of the NCHC hasn’t been popular in all quarters, as it combined with the Big Ten’s decision to sponsor a hockey conference to cause a massive realignment in college hockey. In that regard, Scherr understands what he’s getting into, but he’s not terribly concerned.
“I don’t think it affects the job at all,” Scherr said of the controversy that the NCHC’s formation sparked. “Obviously, conference realignment, from what’s happened in college football, through college hockey and other sports has certainly created controversy within college sports itself, but as we go forward, we’re starting with a clean slate. I’m starting with a clean slate, and I don’t think it really affects what we’re setting out to do at all.”
On the other hand, Scherr recognizes that he has his work cut out for him when it comes to getting up to speed on the world of college hockey. An NCAA Champion wrestler at the Nebraska, Scherr served as Executive Director of USA Wrestling from 1990 to 2000 before moving on to the USOC as Chief of Sport Performance. While his work at the USOC gave him significant experience in working with USA Hockey, Scherr knows that he has work to do in adjusting to this new environment, and he’s prepared to do it.
“I think, as everyone knows, I have not worked in and don’t have a significant background in the sport of hockey,” Scherr said. “It’s certainly one of the areas that, based on my discussions with the athletic directors, that we will work together with to get me up to speed. I look forward to doing that. I didn’t have the opportunity to play organized hockey as a kid, but certainly did work with USA Hockey and was familiar with their programs, and individuals within USA Hockey, and I had an opportunity to work with the NHL at the USOC as well, but certainly, I have a long ways to go in building my knowledge of the game, and my knowledge of the people who work in the game, and the players in the game at that well.”
Moreover, coming from a sport like wrestling, which has faced difficulty in growing and maintaining programs, Scherr brings valuable experience to the table in college hockey, which has seen schools like Findlay and Wayne State discontinue their men’s hockey programs.
“That was a topic with the athletic directors,” Scherr said. “As everyone knows, wrestling, at the Division I level, has been challenged, and lost a number of programs, so I have a very solid understanding of that current landscape. I think it’s relatively similar in hockey, and that goes back to the conference taking a lead role in the promotion of the sport, and the strengthening of its schools, and not only serving as a good citizen in the sport of collegiate hockey, but helping to foster the growth and development of potential new programs.”
Overall, though, the ability to start a conference, essentially from scratch, and do things the way they ought to be done was a major attraction for Scherr, and he’s looking forward to taking these next steps forward together with the eight member schools to make the NCHC the best conference it can be.
“Certainly, there’s a significant amount of excitement as well as a tremendous amount of appreciation to the schools and the administrations who have made this selection. This is really unprecedented, being able to start from the ground up, and have the opportunity to do things the right way to begin with and build the conference the right way. The administrators have certainly looked at it, and they’ve made the commitment to the conference in resources, time and energy to do it right. That’s what gives me the greatest sense of excitement.