What has been thought of as a foregone conclusion since Penn State announced last year they were adding a hockey program, the Big Ten finally makes it official today: there will be a Big Ten conference for hockey, and it will begin sooner than we thought. Per a media release from the Big Ten, or as the kids are calling it, the B1G...
For Immediate Release
Contact: Scott Chipman, Big Ten Conference
March 21, 2011
MEN’S ICE HOCKEY TO BE RECOMMENDED AS OFFICIAL BIG TEN SPORT BEGINNING WITH 2013-14 ACADEMIC YEAR
Park Ridge, Ill. – The directors of athletics of Big Ten institutions which sponsor men’s ice hockey unanimously announce their intention to recommend to the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors in June the establishment of men’s ice hockey as an official conference sport for the 2013-14 academic year with participation by Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
The recommendation includes both the establishment of the inaugural Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament in March of 2014, with the winner earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship, and a 20-game conference schedule with each team playing the other five schools four times (two home games and two away games). In addition, the Big Ten’s men’s ice hockey programs will continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference competition with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
In September of 2010, Penn State announced the establishment of men’s and women’s ice hockey programs set to begin competition in the 2012-13 academic year, giving the Big Ten six institutions sponsoring men’s ice hockey. Big Ten rules allow for a conference championship when six institutions sponsor a program in any given sport.
Since Penn State’s announcement, the conference has researched and investigated the establishment of men’s ice hockey as a conference sport. The conference has sought input and communicated both internally with conference chancellors, presidents, administrators and coaches, and externally with members of the hockey community, including the CCHA and WCHA.
With the addition of Nebraska on July 1, 2011, the broad-based athletic programs of the 12 Big Ten institutions will sponsor 298 teams with more than 9,500 men and women student-athletes competing for Big Ten Championships. The conference currently features 25 official conference sports, 12 for men and 13 for women. The last official conference sport established by the Big Ten was women’s rowing in the 1999-2000 academic year.
I added the bold and italics to the part about the B1G working to maintain strong relationships with the WCHA and CCHA because for college hockey fans, that's the part they're worried about. There's some smart folks out there in the college hockey world who are worried about what a Big Ten hockey conference could do to smaller programs like Ferris State or Lake Superior State, and whether they'll still be able to compete. The B1G wants the potential revenue that comes from televising hockey in those available Friday night time slots on the Big Ten Network, but they certainly don't want to be perceived as the villains if the creation of the conference could be seen as a negative for college hockey. So by including this language in the media release, they're clearly trying to get out in front of any negativity that may stem from this announcement by saying they're working WITH the WCHA and CCHA, and not against them.
WCHA members Minnesota and Wisconsin and CCHA members Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State will join with Penn State to form the six team conference. A couple of things to keep an eye on now:
1) how do the WCHA and CCHA respond? Will we see more reshuffling of schools? Additions? Subtractions?
2) Will we see any other Big Ten schools add hockey in the coming years? For the record, the Big Ten will NOT allow any non-B1G members into the conference, so the only way the Big Ten hockey conference adds teams is if B1G members add the sport. There's been speculation about perhaps Notre Dame, Miami (OH), North Dakota and others leaving their conferences to join. Not happening. In EVERY single sport where the Big Ten has enough teams to form a conference, ONLY B1G teams are in it. Same goes for hockey. So if Notre Dame wants to join, they'd better be prepared to be full-fledged members, and we know that isn't happening. It's why the idea of Illinois, Indiana (both IU and...IU have really strong club hockey programs), or other B1G members adding a hockey program makes some sense.
For the Gophers, how will this affect their TV deal with FSN? They get some good extra coin with that, and I can't imagine they just give that up completely to put all of their games on BTN. Wisconsin is in the same boat, and I have to think Michigan and Michigan State are too, so how will that be handled? There's also the question of how this affects the relationships and rivalries with teams Minnesota have shared a conference with for so long, primarily North Dakota and Denver? What about the now four other Minnesota schools with a D1 team?
I'll also be wondering what Gopher hockey fans will think of this, because the Big Ten is new for them. It's tough to argue that perhaps this is a BETTER move for Minnesota (or Wisconsin for that matter), but it's happening and they're going, so I suppose it won't matter, but how will this news be received by Gopher hockey fans?
Some very, very interesting things to discuss in the coming months and years. I happen to think this will be a positive move overall for college hockey, and could lead to more programs adding the sport. The west coast is a completely untapped resource, and if things go well for the Big Ten with brand new member Penn State, could we see Arizona State add it? The first California school to add a D1 program is going to have an enormous recruiting advantage with more and more kids in that state playing the game. And what about perhaps the University of Washington adding the sport in what's always been an underrated hockey market in the Pacific Northwest (they've supported junior teams well up there for years)?
As they say, time will tell, but today at least we know the idea of a Big Ten hockey conference is now a reality.