College hockey commitment to racial diversity reaffirmed

Josh Fenton
Photo by Charles Hallman

The Big Ten this season will use a three-on-three format after a five-minute sudden death overtime period if the score still is tied in men’s hockey games. The National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) has used this format for several years now.

“The NCHC was the first hockey conference to adopt three-on-three overtime three seasons ago,” Commissioner Josh Fenton told reporters at the league’s annual media day in St. Paul last month.

The NCHC has led the way in its overall vision since its founding in 2011 “to be the best single-sport conference in the NCAA.” Eight NCHC teams have made the NCAA Frozen Four since the league began play in 2013-14, the most of any conference.

At least one league team has made the final quartet for five seasons running, including the first all-NCHC national championship game between Minnesota Duluth and Denver in 2017.  Furthermore, the last three national champions (North Dakota, 2016; Denver, 2017; and Minnesota Duluth, 2018) have come from the eight-team NCHC.

“We believe we are the best conference in college hockey,” Fenton said. “We are very proud of what this conference has built since day one.”

But when the NCAA earlier this year proposed a new mandate regarding overtime, Fenton led the charge against any changes. “Our conference has been outspoken in the belief that three-on-three is good for the growth of the overall [college hockey] game,” he stressed. The NCAA later backed off to allow each conference to come up with their own overtime rule after the first sudden-death session.

“College hockey is strong,” Fenton pointed out. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without need of improvement: He noted three “significant areas” during his pre-season address to reporters, including the MSR. One, a better definition of “commitment…defined as when a prospect signs a national letter of intent,” and any oral commitments aren’t binding, the commish explained.

Second, “delayed enrollment” is allowing players who go to junior hockey after high school to later accept a hockey scholarship up to age 21; and third, the need to devise an early recruiting model “different from other sports. I expect new legislation to be proposed this fall,” Fenton added.

After his address, we asked Fenton about diversity. Two NCHC schools this season now have Black assistant hockey coaches (Paul Jerrard of Omaha, and Colorado College’s Leon Haywood). “I know all of our campuses have a commitment to diversity, particularly racial diversity,” Fenton noted.

“If a player [of color] growing up aspires to be a coach, and they see our conference or other schools that have hired African American assistant coaches as a path and a route for them [to become coaches], we are on board with that.”

The 2019 NCHC Frozen Faceoff is March 22-23, 2019 in St. Paul. “We can’t wait to come back in March,” Fenton said.

The passing parade

John Gagliardi, former St. John’s football coach and college football’s winningest coach, died Sunday at 91. Don Hudson, Macalester’s first Black football coach and first Black coach at a predominately White college, died September 30 at age 88. I had the honor to speak to both men over the years.


The NCAA last week introduced four proposals that, if approved, will help loosen up current restrictions on transfers. This includes: Players are immediately eligible if they are enrolled in summer school; graduate transfers are given two-year scholarships; walk-ons can play immediately after transferring; and players can’t play for two different schools in the same academic year after transferring.