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Notre Dame Joining Big Ten Hockey for 2017-18 Season

The Irish will be the 7th team in the Big Ten....but who will be #8?

Gophers fans will see a lot more of Notre Dame starting in 2017
Gophers fans will see a lot more of Notre Dame starting in 2017

Yes, I know we are late this this party, but several of us had issues that didn't allow us to react to this when it broke immediately yesterday afternoon.

It was announced Tuesday afternoon that Notre Dame will be leaving Hockey East after the 2016-17 season and will join the Big Ten for the 2017-18 season and ones going forward.  It will be for hockey only, as Notre Dame will remain independent for football and in the ACC for other sports.  Notre Dame will become the seventh team in the Big Ten Hockey Conference, and the first affiliate member.

Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviola told Jason Gonzalez of the Star Tribune, "We’re looking at it as a step that will assist our schools and help us become even more competitive nationally. We felt that affiliation membership is a mutually beneficial way to grow Big Ten hockey. We’re going to be better off as a hockey conference for it."

The decision makes sense for the Irish as it automatically cuts their travel dramatically.  Instead of flights to every road series, the Irish will just need to fly to Penn State and Minnesota.  It gets them in a conference with natural rivals Michigan and Michigan State, and sees them playing annually in Minnesota, a state they have recruited heavily and well in the last ten years.  They automatically become one of the top three teams in the conference, but of course that could change in two years.

As for the Big Ten, its a decision that makes sense on the front side, but will leave a lot of logistical questions to be decided on the backside.  The main one will be what happens to Notre Dame's TV deal with NBCSports Network?  At least initially, it appears that the Irish will still keep that contract.

However, it appears that contract can be renegotiated after the 2016-17 season which could see definite changes as one would assume Notre Dame will see more games on BTN as well.

Secondly, the question that will next arrive is will the Big Ten find another team to get the league to eight teams by the 2017-18 season?  From the Gonzalez Star Tribune article:

Big Ten officials would not comment on the possibility of adding an eighth team in time for the 2017-18 season, although expansion is frequently a topic of discussion in and surrounding conference leadership.

Adding an eighth member would make sense, and there appear to be several potential members who would come in as an affiliate member.  Arizona State is the most rumored name as they will be deciding on a conference affiliation in the very near future.  The Sun Devils played their first season as a Division I member last season, and will play one more as an independent before joining a conference for the 2017-18 season.  Another team rumored to be looking at leaving Hockey East would be UCONN.  The Huskies would like to jump to a different conference, but they would also want to join the Big Ten in all sports as they are not happy being stuck in the AAC. Two other teams that have been rumored but don't seem to have quite as much smoke behind them would be Miami, OH and Nebraska-Omaha.

Once the final make-up of the conference is decided, the next question will be the future of the Big Ten Tournament.  Next season in Detroit is the last one that has been scheduled.  Traviola has been quoted as saying that the conference wants to shake up the current format.  Some suggestions have included bringing the tournament back to campus, or trying to hold a tournament in the same arena during the same weekend as either the WCHA or the NCHC to try and capitalize on a bigger viewing audience.  Of course with the addition of Notre Dame into the mix, it also potentially opens up the Chicago market and the potential of either the United Center or Allstate Arena hosting the tournament as well.

One thing is clear.  This is a step forward overall for the Big Ten, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered as we go forward.  Only time will clear some of these questions up, and even then we may not know how this will all work out long term for several years.