Just one question this time, because I figure it's a pretty specialized one most will care not at all about.
Brian,So we've been following the successful and mildly popular club hockey team at Penn State for some time now. Well the boosters have been relentless and the optimism surrounding a jump to D1 increased significantly with the announcement of a 'study' commissioned for a new rink.So the question, if things do in fact pan out, is where Penn State might belong. Hockey has it's own set of traditions and powerhouses, not to mention recent realignment. With the current shake up, is there even room in the current system for a new major program?And regardless of that answer, do you think the Big Ten schools would be willing to give up their current rivals and history for a Big Ten hockey conference, similar to a move the Big East recently made in lacrosse? Right off the bat there is the possibility for a six team league, perhaps small enough to allow for a large set of traditional non-BT games to be played. It might also help spur Illinois to make the jump, as they are currently in a similar situation to Penn State.I'll hang up and listen. Thanks.
Black Shoe Diaries
Kevin's stumbled onto one of the most controversial topics in college hockey: a Big Ten hockey conference, and more generally realignment. With the dissolution of the always-unstable CHA and the flight of its members to safe havens—Robert Morris and Niagara will bring Atlantic Hockey to 12 members, Bemijdi State looks like it will squeeze into the WCHA, and Alabama-Huntsville is trying to get into the CCHA—college hockey finds itself hopelessly gridlocked. Any school looking to start a new program has no place to go, as every conference save Hockey East is full, and Hockey East doesn't seem inclined to expand.
Any program willing to take up the daunting task of starting an expensive sport and balancing the Title IX implications out would face a near-pointless life as an independent. Much cost, no benefit, no expansion.
The obvious solution is to carve up the two western conferences into three eight-team entities, and the most obvious way to do that is to yank the Big Ten teams out with a couple tag-alongs and create a Big Ten hockey conference. However, the problems with that are numerous and severe:
- Only five Big Ten schools currently field hockey teams; the minimum is six. Adding Penn State would solve that issue that but even a six-team conference is pretty slim. And I'm not sure about this but I don't think you could actually add non-Big Ten schools to the conference and still call it the Big Ten.
- Removing Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State from the CCHA would gut that league, hurting the bottom line of the various small Michigan schools in it. That could lead to programs folding. The recent rise of Miami and Notre Dame may make this less of an issue.
- Wisconsin and Minnesota have longstanding rivalries with North Dakota, Colorado College, and Denver they would be loathe to give up. Minnesota also serves in a similar capacity as M and MSU do to the wide variety of Minnesota schools that populate the WCHA.
- Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are all traditional powerhouses. The gap between those four and the remainder of the league would likely be severe. Penn State and any other ambitious Big Ten school, far from traditional recruiting grounds and bereft of D-I history, would likely be signing up to play doormat.
- I think this would be offset by the increased interest and revenue, but travel costs would go up significantly.
I'd love to see it happen. Four games against each opponent would leave the departed powers with plenty of nonconference opportunities (14) to visit schools left in the cold by the move. The WCHA would be just fine anchored by North Dakota, CC, and DU—all extremely strong, established programs. The CCHA could do okay, too, as long as Jeff Jackson and Enrico Blasi stay put.
However, it would be a cataclysmic change and seems highly unlikely. The best hope for college hockey expansion appears to be the far-off idea that a cluster of Canadian universities will join the NCAA a few years down the road and ramp up D-I hockey programs, possibly taking the Alaska teams with them and opening up a couple slots for new programs.
The other option for Penn State is for it to form the basis of a new conference. Niagara and Robert Morris would probably leap at the opportunity, as Atlantic Hockey has restrictions on scholarship numbers below that of the NCAA. Huntsville would sign up, too, but then you've got to find two more schools from somewhere. That was the problem the CHA had: teams would come and go and come and go and the league's future was never assured. A Penn State-anchored league wouldn't have that problem, if only because teams in it would have no other options.
The bottom line is this: the current landscape in college hockey is exceptionally unfriendly to expansion and Penn State is probably going to find it unfeasible unless it can find another major state school (Illinois? Syracuse?) willing to start up a program at the same time and be the co-anchor of a new conference. Unless someone very weird and very rich and very into college hockey expansion dies, I don't see that happening.