The National Collegiate Hockey Conference is headed for its inaugural season this fall, but it will do so without its big-name commissioner. The conference announced Friday evening that Jim Scherr, former CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee and NCHC commissioner since January of 2012, is leaving his post to become the chief operating officer of the inaugural European Games.
Scherr will oversee the international competition which will feature 49 nations in June of 2015.
“We knew when we hired Jim that there would come a time when there would be competing bids for his services,” said NCHC Chairman of the Board and University of North Dakota Director of Athletics Brian Faison in a statement released by the conference. “We are grateful for what Jim has done in his time with the NCHC and we are very happy that he has the opportunity to return to the Olympic sports world with the European Games in Baku. We know his expertise will greatly benefit their event.”
Landing Scherr was considered a coup when he was hired by the fledgling conference, which includes Nebraska Omaha, Colorado College, Denver, St. Cloud State, Western Michigan, Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota and Miami. Having had a wealth of executive experience with the USOC and USA Wrestling, Scherr was a big get and one that somewhat legitimized the conference amid its controversial beginning.
“Serving as commissioner of the NCHC has been a tremendous experience and it is a difficult position to leave behind,” said Scherr in the release. “I want to express my sincere appreciation to the Board for understanding the opportunity presented to me, and for working with me to make it a reality. I regret that I will not be there to lead the conference through its inaugural season, but I have full confidence in the coaches, administrators and conference staff that the NCHC will set the standard for excellence in college hockey.”
Scherr’s departure somewhat puts the league back at square one. Most of the groundwork is already laid for next season, but there is much to be determined in the long term. Good leadership is of paramount importance for the league that was a major factor in the permanent alteration of college hockey’s landscape in realignment.
Among the major happenings during Scherr’s nearly one and a half years tenure, the NCHC established its brand and forged a deal with Target Center in Minneapolis to host its conference championship. The league also adopted a unique standards of officiating program to better select and evaluate its on-ice officials, which could prove to be a revolutionary effort in college hockey.
While the brand and standards program were lauded, the tournament site is still a point of consternation among some, considering the Big Ten was able to secure the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena in alternating years for its postseason event. It’s still too early to fully judge just how successful the NCHC’s end-of-season tournament will fare as it very well could work out for the best.
It’s unfortunate for the NCHC that its experienced executive is leaving before the puck even drops on the conference, however it’s not necessarily a shock. With all due respect to the conference, the job always seemed a bit beneath a professional of Scherr’s level, but to his credit he came in and did the job and accomplished a fair amount in his brief tenure. It was hard to fathom he’d be long for the job though and that has been proven correct.
Now Brad Faison, Ken Ralph and the rest of the athletic directors will have to find a new commish. Faison said the search will begin immediately.
There isn’t a lot of time to get this sorted out, but considering the fact that building a conference from scratch is no small task, this is a hire the league must take some time to get right. There is likely to be turbulence throughout the first season as conference members will be learning their new surroundings on the fly.
One of the very few knocks on Scherr coming into the job was that he wasn’t a “hockey guy.” One has to wonder if the league will seek someone with a wealth of experience in college hockey’s ranks in the form of a former coach or athletic director.
No matter the person’s background, this hire is a crucial one for the young league. It won’t be easy, but it’s an important job in this brave new world of a realigned college hockey.