One of the bigger news items over the past week was the announcement from WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod that he would be stepping down following the 2013-14 season. This news comes as little surprise to followers of the league as McLeod had fallen out of favor with fans, coaches and administrators of member schools years ago.
Much of the criticism has come over the ''old boys club" attitude in the league office, and more specifically, the ineptitude of WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd. The officiating and leadership within the league became a running joke in the later years of McLeod's tenure, all the way to the point where member schools considered jumping to other leagues even before the recent conference realignment destroyed the WCHA.
This season, Wisconsin and Minnesota left the league to join the new Big Ten Conference along with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State of the CCHA and independent Penn State. Even before that, however, Wisconsin had flirted with leaving the WCHA for the CCHA.
Much of UW's courtship of the CCHA involved posturing due to stalled talks for the formation of a Big Ten Hockey league, but tension between the league office and the powers that be in the Wisconsin athletic department also played a role in exploring the idea of a move. The CCHA idea was nixed when head coach Mike Eaves expressed to Barry Alvarez he had no interest.
"If Mike's not interested, I'm not interested,'' Alvarez told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2009.
McLeod will officially step down from his post when his contract expires June 30.
"I didn't want to put the league in the position of having to make a decision on whether to re-hire me or not at the end of the contract," McLeod told USCHO.com. "It's a new day and it's a new situation and if they wanted to move on, I respect that. If they wanted to keep me around, they would say so one way or the other."
I'm guessing McLeod didn't want to give the league a choice because he knows what the choice would have been. I can't help but ask, why he was allowed to keep his job as long as he has?
There's no doubt the growth of the WCHA's conference tournament, the Final Five, has been a rousing success. The year-end event in St. Paul annually draws over 80,000 spectators to the Xcel Energy Center. The league has also enjoyed unprecedented success on a national level with eight NCAA titles and 10 Hobey Baker winners on his watch.
Even with that in mind, I find it hard to comprehend how McLeod was allowed to commission the most prestigious conference in college hockey as long as he did given his transgressions in the 1990's.
People forget we're talking about a guy who was forced to resign from his post as athletic director at Minnesota-Duluth following a number of events that eventually led to charges of felony theft and theft by swindle.
According to a 1996 report from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, McLeod misappropriated $18,000 worth of athletic department funds for personal use.
A criminal complaint filed in St. Louis County District Court said that in 1992 and 1993, McLeod deposited $2,882.68 of UMD's money in a First Bank-Duluth checking account belonging to him and his wife, Sande, and used $14,916.80 of UMD's funds to pay off a personal home-equity line of credit at First Bank.
According to the report, St. Louis County Attorney Alan Mitchell was only allowed to charge McLeod in connection with one check worth $6,000 due to a three-year statute of limitations, despite university auditors and police tracing five additional UMD golf and tennis account checks to McLeod's personal accounts.
McLeod eventually avoided prosecution after entering into a pretrial diversion program that would drop the felony charges against him if he had no brushes with the law in the following year.
Nine days after the university released its audit of the athletic department, McLeod left his post in Duluth.
If stealing $18,000 from UMD for personal use wasn't bad enough, McLeod was also linked to a payoff offer in an assault case when he was at the helm in Duluth.
According to a 1996 Associated Press article quoting the Star Tribune, McLeod offered to arrange a payment to a student if she would decline to testify against a hockey player who assaulted her.
The player, Sergei Krivokrasov, pleaded guilty to an assault charge in 1993 and now plays for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Transcripts show that during a meeting in his office, McLeod discussed with Erin Masser, then a sophomore, the disadvantages of pursuing an assault case. He offered to act as ``middleman'' in delivering money from Krivokrasov, who had signed a pro contract worth $900,000, the newspaper said.
As part of the investigation into suspected witness tampering and bribery by McLeod, Duluth police taped conversations between McLeod and Masser.
The St. Louis County attorney's office never filed charges against McLeod, in part because no money changed hands, according to the attorney who examined the case. However, police Lt. John Hall, who directed the investigation, told the paper that there was ``a good, presentable case.''
Given the fact Krivokrasoy never even played hockey at Minnesota-Duluth, the tie to McLeod is certainly an interesting one.
Krivokrasov was 18 when he came to Duluth from Russia in 1992. One of his two agents, Serge Levin, said he was sent to Duluth as a potential college player with a future as a professional.
But McLeod said Krivokrasov was never a college prospect. He said the player lived at the school at his invitation for the summer while waiting for the NHL draft as part of an arrangement among McLeod, Levin and agent Ron Salcer. In return, McLeod explained, the agents agreed to notify the school of eligible college recruits in Europe.
Krivokrasov was drafted by the Blackhawks and signed a contract within a few months of arriving.
So, not only did McLeod attempt to play middle-man in paying off a female student at UMD who was assaulted by Krivokrasov, McLeod admitted agreeing to house the player at the school in a deal with NHL agents, and in return would receive information on potential recruits from Europe for UMD in the future.
I don't know about you guys, but that's EXACTLY who I would want running my league. If your sarcasm meter is broken, I'm joking. It's absolutely criminal McLeod was allowed to continue leading the WCHA after these reports came out in 1996.
While McLeod will certainly receive many pats on the back during his swan song this season, consider me one who won't be sad to see the commissioner ride off into the sunset.
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