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Bemidji State, Nebraska-Omaha to join WCHA

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DULUTH - Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha officially will be admitted to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association this afternoon and begin play in the league in 2010-11, sources have confirmed to the News Tribune. A WCHA teleconference call is scheduled for 5 p.m.

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The decision to expand from 10 to 12 teams came Thursday night after two days of talks within the league, and with Omaha school officials. It's believed that WCHA athletic directors agreed in principle with terms negotiated between commissioner Bruce McLeod and the incoming schools, and an official vote on admission will be taken today by school faculty representatives. Eight of 10 votes is required for admission.

McLeod told the News Tribune on Thursday afternoon that there had been new developments in the situation and that an announcement was due as early as today.

It will mark the first WCHA expansion since Minnesota State-Mankato joined in 1999-2000.

Omaha currently is a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and first approached the WCHA about membership 13 years ago as its hockey program began. Until Thursday, Bemidji State was the only school to apply to the WCHA since a moratorium on expansion was lifted in January. Bemidji State made a presentation during league meetings in April in Marco Island, Fla. Bemidji State's women's team is a member of the women's WCHA, while the men's team is a member of the four-team College Hockey America, which will disolve after the 2009-10 season because of dwindling member numbers.

McLeod talked with WCHA athletic directors by phone Wednesday night with an update on negotiations with Omaha school officials, receiving guidance on how to proceed. It's believed he continued discussions Thursday with new Omaha athletic director Trev Alberts and met later in the day, by phone, with the WCHA ADs.

It's believed that negotiations centered on three points -- a reduced fee to join the league, an immediate share of playoff revenue and competing in the WCHA by 2010-11

When Minnesota State-Mankato joined the WCHA, it paid the league $40,000 per year for three years, and didn't share in WCHA playoff revenue during that time, according to the Mankato Free Press. WCHA teams each earned about $91,000 from the 2009 league playoffs, said McLeod.

Bemidji State, in particular, was pushing to begin WCHA play as soon as possible. If incoming teams were asked to wait until 2011-12, it would've forced Bemidji State to play an independent and, likely, unattractive schedule, in 2010-11, the same season it moves into the new Bemidji Regional Events Center.

The Beavers, coached by Coleraine native Tom Serratore, won the 2009 College Hockey America regular season and playoff titles, and advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time, losing to Miami of Ohio in the semifinals. Bemidji State finished 20-16-1.

Omaha (15-17-8) tied for seventh in the CCHA in 2008-09. After the season, Alberts moved Duluth native Mike Kemp from coach to associate athletic director and hired former North Dakota coach Dean Blais. The International Falls native, hired two weeks ago, was 216-115-83 in 10 years in the WCHA with North Dakota through 2004.

Minnesota Duluth has played Bemidji State very year since the Beavers moved to Division I in 1999-2000. The Bulldogs hold a 13-7 mark during that period and are scheduled face Bemidji State next season, on Jan. 22-23, in a home-and-home series. UMD last met Nebraska-Omaha in October of 2001 in the Maverick Stampede, beating the Mavericks 5-2 in Omaha.

With Omaha leaving the CCHA, its believed the league will replace the Mavericks with Alabama-Huntsville of College Hockey America. Huntsville has applied for CCHA membership and received a site visit by the league earlier this month.

The Duluth News Tribune and Detroit Lakes Newspapers are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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