Monday, April 17, 2006

Everybody's Talking Expansion

Every year around this time, people start discussing the possibility of college hockey expanding. It gets talked about most frequently with the possibility of creating a Big Ten Hockey Conference, but there's other places college hockey could expand to. During the NCAA tournament, I said how great it would be if the event could be expanded to a 32 or even 24 team field. But for that to happen, college hockey would have to expand from their current 59 teams, to about 96 teams before they considered another tournament expansion.

The place that college expansion gets talked about the most is in the Big Ten, since 5 members already have hockey teams. Looking at the 6 Big Ten schools that don't have hockey, I think there are really only two potential schools that could make the jump to the Division level: Penn State and Iowa. Penn State has always been the obvious one because of their success at the club level. They even beat a D1 school this year when they defeated Robert Morris. Iowa is the less obvious choice, but I think it would be a perfect fit. They've already got junior teams and minor league teams in Iowa, and youth hockey is growing considerably. I think it's only natural that they should have a team at the collegiate level as well.

Another untapped region that I think you could see expansion is in the state of Wisconsin. The state has plenty of Division III hockey schools, but only UW-Madison playing Division I hockey. There isn't a huge difference between some of the bigger DIII Wisconsin hockey schools like UW-Eau Claire or UW-Steven's Point and some of the smaller Minnesota colleges that have D1 programs like Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State and St. Cloud. If those teams were given the right incentive, there's no reason they shouldn't move up to Division I.

As far as bigger schools that I could see starting Division 1 hockey programs, one that really sticks out in my mind is Nebraska-Lincoln. Obviously football will always be king, but I think it could be like in Omaha where you've got a group of people that love hockey thanks to their USHL team, and people who absolutely love college athletics. There's already a pretty fierce rivalry between the two schools and one that could actually be played out on a level playing field.

The other area that I think could be cultivated is out west in Pac-10 country. There's already some decent club hockey being played out there. I know banking on the fine people of Los Angeles to care about anything is a giant leap of faith, but I think if it was marketed properply, you could scrounge up 4k-5k aspiring movie stars per night. Washington is another potential team that could capitalize on Seattle's long hockey history.

There's a few schools in Michigan that could potentially make the jump. The three that come to mind are Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Oakland University. Central and Eastern are no different than their MAC counterparts like Western Michigan, Bowling Green, and Miami. They've just never shown much interest in hockey. I know Eastern Michigan in particular is on the borderline and has risked getting bumped down to D1-AA in football. If they made that move, maybe they could take some of that extra money and put it into moving their hockey team up to Division I. Oakland U is probably the trickiest of the three. They've shown excellent commitment to their sports, but they've got the problem that the lady that donated all the land to the university made them pinky-swear that they wouldn't have contact sports at the school, so hockey is probably out.

Liberty University also expressed interest in getting into college hockey. One road trip to an opposing school's rink would probably be enough to get them off the hockey bandwagon. I think we'd all probably be a lot happier if they just let that idea go.

There's a few school that have been talked about that I don't think hockey will ever work at. Illinois is a school with a nice college hockey past, but there's just not the interest. They'd never pay attention to anything that competes with basketball. Northwestern has never shown enough commitment to their athletics to ever start a hockey program. A lot of people want the Big East schools to get into hockey as well, but that's probably never going to happen.

The most important question is how to convince all these schools to start hockey programs. The simplest way to put is that the NCAA needs to find ways to remove the ridiculously high barriers of entry for opposing schools. It takes too much financial obligation for schools to commit to something they see as a gamble.

The first way to lower those barriers is by reducing scholarships. I'm not saying college hockey should do this right away. It would make no sense to blindly start cutting scholarships. But if they put out feelers and get some interest from schools, it would make sense to lower the number of scholarships a team can use by one or two. This makes it cheaper for teams to start programs, and helps spread out the talent pool so younger programs don't get dominated.

The other, much more complicated issue is that of Title IX. For just about any program to move up to Division I, they'd likely have to take a budget-sucking women's hockey program along with them. It's not that I have anything against women's hockey, but they've got almost hope of beign profitable, or breaking even right now. There needs to be some way to get that law reworked so that it's doing what it was intended to do, rather than denying potential college athletes the opportunity to play. If anything, allowing men's programs to start up would create more interest for women's hockey and help make the game better and more successful. Instead, nobody is winning right now.

12 comments:

Runninwiththedogs said...

I can't BELIEVE you didn't link to me on this post. Good lord, you've linked to me for MUCH less.

Just to clarify, anyone who thinks Illinois is ready for the jump to D-1 hockey is TOTALLY OUT OF THEIR MINDS and knows nothing of the culture down there. Trust me on this one, because I'm an expert.

drop the puck said...

Title IX compliance doesn't have to be acheived by mirroring men's sports. A men's hockey team can be offset by any number of women's sports.

I think the WCHA needs to prepare itself for the inevitable BTHC slap in the face and actively court future membership at places like Cal-Berkeley; Stanford; USF; Fresno St; Seattle U and not bother itself about UW;UCLA:USC etc. Northern Arizona and US International were unfortunately ahead of their time but certainly NAU could rise from the ashes if they had a league to play in. The likelihood though is that the WCHA will sit on their hands until bucky and goldy are waving at them from the back of a station wagon speeding away. Stanford could be a perennial powerhouse in hockey within just a few years. I'd hate them like a gopher.

end of ramble

Chris said...

Sorry about the link. I was actually reading something else that sparked my interest and yours slipped my mind.

**This goes for everyone**

If you have a post that for whatever reason I miss or don't link to, you're more than welcome to post it in the comments of the thread, even if it doesn't apply to the post you're replying to.

DTP--

You're correct, although thanks to football, most schools are already stretched to the max in terms of Title IX. If you look at most non-revenue sports, most are already pretty ridiculous in terms of scholarship allocation. It's not uncommon to see women's teams get like 9 scholarships while their men's counterpart only gets like 2 to help make up the difference from football.

I considered some of the NoCal schools for my post, but I think SoCal is much more feasible. In LA, you've already got a somewhat built-in fanbase in an NHL team, and a great youth hockey program. You've barely got either in the upper part of the state.

Plus, if hockey expanded there, we could get some class Los Angeles vs. Los Anchorage match-ups.

And Stanford doesn't need a hockey team. They get enough Director's Cup points as it is.

Kevin said...

I really don't get what appeal there is in having a Big Ten hockey conference is. Sure, it works fine for sports that everybody plays, but when you have lots of major universities without programs and smaller schools with strong programs, it doesn't make sense to split them up that way. If anything, I think it'd be beneficial to switch up the WCHA and CCHA a little bit. If you traded Michigan Tech for Fairbanks and Nebraska Omaha, then things would at least geographically be the way they should be.



I really don't know as much about the smaller schools in Wisconsin, but I think it'd be nice if they moved up to DI so there could be the same kind of intrastate competition that exists between all the teams in Michigan.

As much as college hockey should be out on the west coast, it'll be difficult to start something up. Right now you really have nothing out there, and even if there's interest there's the perpetual hassle of finding teams to play. If there were to be a team in LA, the closest teams they have are the 3 in Colorado, and Denver is still 1000 miles away.

I can't really see Central or especially Eastern putting up a DI hockey team anytime soon. Oakland could definitely pull it off, except for the problem of having to play off-campus, apparently. There any plans for the Silverdome?

Badger Backer said...

I don't think a Big Ten Hockey Conference will ever happen just because of NCAA bids. Sure, if Penn State picked up a team you'd have the requisite 6, but Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State are all tournament teams in any given year. And, under the WCHA/CCHA format they can all be tournament teams.

I'm not sure how the PWR would work out but I feel that having all those teams in a BTHC beating up on each other would cost bids.

It's not like it would help that much financially either barring huge TV contracts as UW, Minnesota, Michigan and MSU are all at or near capacity as it is under the current setup. Ohio State is the only team that would probably benefit attendance-wise from the recognizable competition because they play in their cavernous arena.

Penn State, assuming they joined, would also benefit from the immediate publicity but honestly I think it would be pretty terrible for their program to be getting slapped around by a group of teams with combined 22 national titles between them their first few seasons in the league.

I don't know, I just don't see it happening.

As for expansion, it would be nice but I think it's unlikely out west. Too hard for teams like UCLA to find anyone to play and it's long flights assuming they got into a conference. It would be fun to see them though.

Donald said...

I think a good model to look at in terms of west coast NCAA expansion is the western division of the ECHL. I think the attendance numbers from Las Vegas, Boise, Fresno etc show that there is an interest. I don't recommend competing with an ECHL team though in a small market. I like the DII approach because of the fact that schools with DI football and/or basketball won't be interested in hockey.

As for california hockey it was my impression that mid-to northern leagues were holding their own with LA area in terms of producing D1 players but as I said thats just an impression.

Runninwiththedogs said...

I was only joking :^)

blockski said...

I like the idea of expansion in Wisconsin, but I don't see it happening at any of the existing programs, since they all play in atheltic departments that entirely operate in Division III.

Of the schools in Wisconsin that do play D-II or higher, none play hockey right now, and many have a significant investment in basketball. UW Green Bay and UW Milwaukee are full D-I schools, while UW Parkside is D-II. Marquette is full D-I, but I can't see them investing in anything but basketball.

As far as the state of Illannoy, why not a school like NIU?

I think what we need is a place for these schools to go a grow at the D-1 level. The AHA has shown that growth is possible, but they've done it by providing an environment where schools can compete at the D-1 level without offering a full slate of schollies. I think lowering the NCAA limit means risking on losing top talent to the Major Junior route, so you need another method to help bridge that gap. The CHA was an attempt, but it's not going so hot.

Rick said...

Please see my rebuttal to the concept of Husker Hockey at http://www.fourtotheside.com/hockey/2006/04/wch-suggests-husker-hockey-kicking.html#comments

Chris said...

Thanks for all the great, constructive comments on this issue.

I also agree a Big Ten conference would be an awful idea.

In an ideal world, you could expand the College Hockey Showcase so each team hosts a weekend series every year, and throw in a pair of series against Ohio State, and it could be like the old days where you award a Big Ten championship while still having a formal league. Expanding the Showcase has been discussed by the schools, but it's just not feasible given the current parameters.

An ideal world would also have a balanced league schedule(that's another rant for another day).

The way you solve that is by expanding college hockey and getting more conferences. If Michigan doesn't have to play 4-8 games against UAF and UNO in their conference, they've got the flexibility to play Minnesota and Wisconsin twice each.

There is the problem with the Wisco schools about them being in Division III, but it would seem to benefit the NCAA if they gave them an exception and allowed them the opportunity to move up to Division I just for hockey.

I thought about NIU, but I wasn't that confident about them. It's not too far from Chicago, but it seems like it's kind of in the middle of nowhere between Chicago and Beloit. Plus, there was a hockey team about 40 some miles down Highway 90 15 years ago that failed in the CCHA.

I'm not sure about lowering scholarship numbers hurting the NCAA vs. Major Junior. I understand the logic. Certainly there will be fewer full schollies handed out, but at the same time, it also creates more opportunities. A player that maybe would have got 25% of a scholarship at Wisconsin and played on the fourth line, could maybe get 75% at UW-Eau Claire and play on the second line.

To expand out West, you'd really need a bunch of teams to join at the same time. They could start out as independents and play a fairly insular schedule for the first couple of seasons. That would really cut down on expenses.

Certainly all this would take a lot of work, and is unlikely to happen. But I think it's something people need to work to make happen because it could a winning scenario for everyone involved.

Runninwiththedogs said...

Expansion in Wisconsin makes the most sense, at least at this point. With Wisconsin winning the NC in women's and men's hockey (with the men winning in Milwaukee), college hockey is at its most visible in WI. It certainly is great for me, more hockey within decent travelling distance.

Arenas are the key though. A storied program like the UMD Bulldogs can't even get their new arena approved DESPITE the voters of Duluth showing their support. Arenas are not popular right now. We need to find schools with crazy alumni to donate money. There's the ticket.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see D1 hockey expand. I am from Boston and I would like to see schools up and down the west coast make the jump as previously blogged about.

I also agree that Penn State is a candidate, but there are others here in the east that could also make the jump and either go to the ECAC or Atlantic or potentially help save the CHA.

Syracuse - pro's; lots of $ and an on campus rink already. I know the rink isn't of yost arena quality, but if anyone has ever seen Bentley College's home rink, you'd take the Syracuse rink any day. Another plus, they got an AHL team, several jr teams and SUNY D3 schools around to get talent from. So there should be ample fan support. Not to mention being close to Canada. The con w/ the cuse is, football, basketball and lax competition.

URI - they won the club title a few years ago. They also have an on campus rink. I see them alot like Uconn was (started as D3 and are now D1). The cons with the rams may be that they aren't a huge sports school. Honestly, Uconn's D1 hockey success was partly paid for by the success of the hoops team. But I'd still like to see URI make the jump.

Lastly, the Naval Academy. Pro's they just upgraded their rink. They, like Army and AFA, could easily be competitive and they are usually a top 15 club team any way. Since its an academy, the competition with other programs such as football and basketball may not be as detrimental as other schools.

Perhaps Pitt? Alot of Sydney Crosby wanna be's

Just thought I'd throw more schools out there for discussion

Dave from Boston.