Now I know what you are thinking: college has hockey now? Not only is hockey a collegiate sport, but it is suffering the same fate of its more widely known brothers basketball and football: completely unnecessary conference realignment. Is it because they are interested in keeping expenses down and creating regional rivalries? Nope, it’s the usual reason…
Once again, money has gotten in the way of all that is right about sports. Driven by greed and the promise of TV revenues from the Big Ten TV Network, a Big Ten Hockey Conference has been formed and will be operating in the 2013-14 season. Athletic Directors and coaches in substandard hockey programs at Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State have been sold a bill of goods. To the lay-hockey fan - or those who are more familiar with the Big Ten conferences in football and basketball -l this sounds like it makes perfect sense and is likely a much-needed move, but to hard core fans in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), this is a travesty!
The catalyst for a Big Ten hockey conference was Penn State's announcement last September that it would establish men's and women's ice hockey programs starting with the 2012-13 season. Conference rules allow for a conference championship when six member schools sponsor a sport. The Nittany Lions will be the sixth Big Ten school with men's hockey. This realignment will thus draw Wisconsin and Minnesota from the WCHA and Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State from the CCHA. For a parallel to college football, this could be similar to when Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech fled the Big East for brighter pastures and essentially left the conference for dead before the Big East was forced to poach some teams from other conferences.
The WCHA and CCHA are the premier breeding grounds for NHL draftees. There are over 65 NHL draftees alone in the WCHA with North Dakota and Minnesota leading the pack with over 35 between the two of them.
This move is going to set the already weak programs involved in the realignment back another five years. Currently, Michigan is the only strong program in the Big Ten and Coach Red Berenson isn’t too excited about the future change. Much of the draw for a young up-and-coming recruit is the long standing tradition of professional development. The rivalries, trophies, tournaments and sense of regionalism are also incredible draw. Do you think that a young hockey sensation wants to go to Ohio to play for 1,300 clueless fans or to North Dakota and play for 16,000 wild fans in a $ 200 million dollar temple of hockey?
Penn State is going to be playing hockey with the big boys. The Penn State Ice Arena holds 1,350 fans. College Station PA doesn’t have a public rink and has only a small youth hockey program. 600- 700 fans currently turn out for Nittany Lion Hockey. In contrast, the State of Minnesota has close to 500,000 kids active in youth hockey and 5 Division 1 teams and 10 Division III college teams. On a given Friday night there are over 100,000 fans watching college hockey in Minnesota!
On top of the destruction of time-tested rivalries, travel costs will go up considerably for teams like the Gophers, when they have to fly to four of their five conference opponents. The team buses to Madison, WI, and presumably will continue to do so. During the 2010-11 season, the Gophers flew only once, to a series at Colorado College. Usually they do tend to fly at least a few times, so this was an unusual season in that regard. Now, teams in the new Big Ten will be flying at least four times minimum each season. Luckily these schools can just raise ticket prices and tuition to counter these rising costs. That was a close call! In summary, the NCAA has done what it does best: screw up something that was thriving so they can make an extra buck.
Tip of the hat to John Isaksen for this story!
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