NCAA Hockey: Is Expansion around the Corner?

college expansion

Zac Larraza [photo: University of Denver Athletics]

With the University of North Dakota and Princeton University traveling to Burnaby, British Columbia to play in the Great Northwest Showcase in early January 2014. I asked myself the question, is college hockey expansion in the works?

I have to believe that NCAA Division I hockey is ready for expansion. I would have to think that college hockey fans have a strong desire for college hockey expansion as well, too. Why not add Canadian Inter-University Sport teams? It makes perfect sense to me.

I think College hockey got it right, the Great Northwest Showcase is a great way to way to put Division I college hockey on center stage in western Canada for future expansion. Adding college hockey in British Columbia, Canada would also put the NCAA in direct head-to-head competition with the CHL, something I would like to see happen.

In the future, I don’t think that it would be that much of a stretch for the NCAA to add a few CIS teams. In my opinion, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University would seem like logical teams to add to the NCAA Division I college hockey, from the current lineup of CIS teams. Actually, Simon Fraser University is already a member of the NCAA Division II and plays multiple Division II sports in the GNAC.

One of the possible benefits of having a Division I college hockey team or two in the Vancouver, British Columbia market would be exposure. Vancouver is a major media market, which could bring big-time media exposure to Division I college hockey in western Canada. That exposure would be huge for college hockey, especially in western Canada.  The added exposure would help grow college hockey and make it even bigger in North America.

We might be getting ahead of ourselves.

Moving forward, SFU is already a member of the NCAA Division II, so they could add Division I hockey. At the current time, SFU only has a club hockey team. Also, UBC isn’t in the NCAA, so they would need to join the NCAA before they could move forward and joining the NCAA is a long process.

College Hockey Expansion in the Southwest is an option as well

On September 17, 2010, it was officially announced that Penn State University was adding men’s and women’s ice hockey programs. This was due to a very generous donation of 88 million dollars by Alumnus Terry Pegula.  The University was to use the donation to build the Pegula Ice Arena. Completion of the on-campus arena is set for October. The first game at the new arena is scheduled for October 11, 2013, against Army.

Pegula’s generous donation set the college hockey world upside down.  His donation also set in motion the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and finally the collapse of the CCHA and the restructuring of the WCHA.

The summer of 2011 was a turbulent time for college hockey. With the realignment, college hockey kind of resembled the rest of Division I sports, but on a smaller scale. The dust has finally settled, and we’re moving forward. Eventually, I believe that Division I college hockey will grow.

Westward expansion seems like an attractive and viable option. The NCHC currently only has eight teams, which would allow for the league to comfortably expand in the future. It would also allow to league to be selective in who they take on as new members, as well. Adding the right high profile school could help with their branding and appeal. I found this article on Jar Pride, a Bentley college hockey blog and the author has an interesting idea; add a couple of Arizona ACHA Division I club hockey teams to college hockey.

It’s unlikely the Arizona schools would ever be able to join the WCHA because of how stretched that league already is. Travel costs are a concern of many programs, and taking trips to Alabama, Alaska, and Arizona only makes sense from an alphabetical standpoint. Schools like Michigan Tech, Bemidji State, and others couldn’t make that jump without major concerns. At the same time, the WCHA is already maxing out its ranks in terms of numbers, and with only 60 programs approximately in college hockey, having 14-20 teams in a league doesn’t make much sense.

The NCHC does, however, seem like a logical fit. The schools in the NCHC stretch west to Colorado, with both Colorado College and Denver. The furthest school east is a place like Nebraska-Omaha, a major metropolitan area for the Midwest, or Miami University in Ohio, and the other remaining schools like North Dakota and Western Michigan are considered the hallmark programs of their respective institutions. Additionally, the NCHC only has only eight teams, so adding two would only bolster its ranks if the programs can financially and competitively step in. [JAR PRIDE]

Here’s the kicker, last winter, then NCAA Division I Independent PSU played ACHA D-1 Arizona State in a two game weekend series. ASU actually split that series with Penn State (3-8L, 3-1W) on Nittany Lions home ice. Maybe ASU is ready for the big-time already? Maybe, who knows, but I think it’s time for the powers that be to start thinking about expanding the Division I ranks.

Eric Burton
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey for Inside Hockey and is the editor of Goon’s World. Eric started writing for the Hockey Writers Combine in September of 2012 and is the lead writer for College Hockey.
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10 Comments

  1. I think the Big Ten conference is the key to expansion in college hockey. Look for teams at Iowa, Illinois, etc… in the next 5 to 10 years.

  2. Rutgers University seems to me to be a logical choice to add Div I Hockey because they have joined The Big Ten. I haven’t heard about any plans though. I like the idea of adding Canadian Universities because it expands opportunities for players to get a college education and develop their game in preparation for possible professional career.

  3. I’m talking football at Western Michigan, obviously.

  4. I diagree about the ‘hallmark program’ being hockey at Western Michigan. Waldo Stadium seats over 30,000 and the Broncos will play host to Michigan State in the 2015 season and Illinois in the 2016 season. In addition, Waldo Stadium holds two of the top four home attendance figures in Mid-American Conference history and 5 of the top 10 home crowds. Lawson Arena, the current hockey venue, holds just over 3,500.

  5. Simon Fraser University would not have to be a NCAA DI school to compete in D1 hockey. A prime example of this is the now-defunct hockey program at the University of Findlay in Ohio. UF, a DII school, held a DI men’s and women’s hockey team for a short period of time before being shut down by financial concerns.

    That is the main problem with expansion. It is a rare combination for a school to have a solid potential fan base and the necessary funding. Many schools have one of the two, but fielding a successful program takes both. I do not know about schools from Canada, but US expansion seems unlikely. Even the addition of bigger schools in the South or Southwest, like Arizona State, are unrealistic. Competitors would not want to travel that far. Traveling to Alabama Huntsville already causes enough problems for teams.

    It’s a nice idea and I think most people want to see it happen, but I don’t think it’s feasible.

  6. How about a Pac-10 of hockey? UCLA, USC, Cal, Berkely, UW, USU, UBC, SFU, as well as teams from Oregon, or the Alaska teams? Then what about Ontario or Quebec schools having teams in the established hockey conferences? Or prairie teams in the WCHA?

  7. University of Washington Huskies at Key Arena where NBA Sonics played and where the Phoenix Coyotes almost relocated, (staved off at the last minute.) Seattle Times wrote an article about it in July, during the wake of the Coyotes fiasco.

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