Josh Fenton has been on the ground floor in the formation of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) since over a decade ago. Beginning on the first of the new year, Fenton will be doing double duty: He will be a special consultant to the Summit League before taking over full-time as its new commissioner on April 11, 2022. Until then, he will be finishing up his NCHC commish duties.
Fenton has served as NCHC commissioner since 2013. Among his achievements, along with helping to establish the eight-team league, are forming the NCHC Frozen Faceoff championship tournament weekend, first in Minneapolis then in St. Paul; implementing college hockey’s first 3-on-3 overtime, playing at Madison Square Garden (the College Hockey Showdown), and securing a major television contract with CBS Sports Network.
During the 2020 pandemic season, Fenton successfully guided the NCHC Pod in Omaha, Neb. to start last season. The NCHC under Fenton’s leadership had 27 teams in the NCAAs in seven seasons, 12 teams making the Frozen Four and four teams winning national championships.
Despite not having a local club, the MSR has covered the NCHC since its inception, and Fenton often talked with us. Our discussions mainly centered around diversity issues. When he talked with reporters, including the MSR, during a Dec. 7 Zoom conference call, the commissioner again talked about diversity and inclusion and his part in it.
“You and I talked about…the importance of placing emphasis on diversity, equity, inclusion within the organization and, by extension, our member institutions,” recalled Fenton. The NCHC this year became a founding member of College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the 11 Division I hockey conferences. Before this, the league had begun looking at such issues as they started a diversity task force.
“There’s no doubt we are very proud of what we’ve built in the DEI area,” noted Fenton.
On his new job, Fenton said he welcomes the challenge of now running a league of both men’s and women’s sports. The Summit League has 19 sports and 10 member schools, including its newest member, the University of St. Thomas. The league first started in 1982 as the Mid-Continent Conference before it rebranded in 2007.
“I’m excited about the transition,” declared Fenton. “I’m very appreciative to the presidents and chancellors of both the Summit League and the NCHC to allow what I think is a unique transition. I will be very, very active.
“My focus is going to be to properly transition and complete the year ensuring that our student-athletes across the conference have great experiences throughout the rest of the regular season,” said the NCHC commissioner. “I bet a lot of my time will be spent on ensuring that [the NCHC] postseason tournament goes off and our student-athletes have the best possible experiences.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.