Rutgers University is following in the footsteps of Penn State and Arizona State.
For years, Andriaan Klaassen, assistant coach and scouting director for the Scarlet Knights, has dreamed of elevating his team to Division I status. Now, after 19 years as a part of the Rutgers Ice Hockey program, Klaassen’s dream is finally gaining some substance.
Any school that is looking to make the jump to Division I has several obstacles that they must overcome. For an expensive sport like ice hockey, making the jump is even harder.
Money is the biggest issue that is preventing Rutgers from elevating their club team to Division I status. However, if done right, a Division I program at Rutgers could turn into a huge source of revenue for the school.
“It obviously takes money to get a new program rolling, and it’s no secret that a hockey program is probably the most expensive to start,” said Kassian, per app.com , “but next to football and basketball, hockey has proven to be one of the most profitable for a university.”
Penn State is the perfect example.
In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, Penn State ice hockey was the university’s third most profitable sport. In its first season at Pegula Ice Arena, the ice hockey program pulled in $993,392 and was one of three sports at Penn State that brought in a positive revenue (Penn State has 31 sports). In a hockey-rich region such as New Jersey, Rutgers could build a hockey program of similar financial strength.
“We’ve shown them that it can be a revenue sport if you do it correctly,” Klaassen said, per uscho.com. “Those figures that came out of Penn State after their first year at Pegula [Ice Arena], that really was an eye-opener to a lot of other schools that want to do this that it can be a profitable sport and help support the rest of the athletic department just like football and basketball if you do it correctly.”
The key, Klaassen says, is commitment to the program.
“You can’t do half-measures in this,” Klaassen said. “If you don’t ramp up quickly enough, you’re just going to die.”
The question for Rutgers is simple: How can we get started?
Penn State got its program started with some help from Terrence Pegula, billionaire owner of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills. Rutgers may not be able to pull in an equally strong donation, but the Rutgers Hockey Alumni group have asked for help from potential donors, hoping to draw in some big bucks.
— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) June 9, 2015
However, a donation this large is not necessarily life or death for Rutgers hockey. Arizona State proved that it can be done with less money.
“When Penn State did it everyone was super happy for them and said it’s a rarity. Another [Terry] Pegula will never happen,” Klaassen said. “But when Arizona State did it with about a third of the money raised, it raised a lot of eyebrows and started tipping the dominos with other people having the same mindset as myself, saying if they can do it, surely we can do it.”
Meanwhile, Rutgers has began an online petition to gauge support for a potential D-I hockey program. The petition was quite successful, as it gathered about 2,000 signatures in less than a week.
“The support we’ve received with this petition has been awesome,” Klaassen said, according to app.com. “But it’s the comments people have left that have meant the most. It shows that that this tightly knit hockey community we’re in does care about the future of this program.”
When you look at the Rutgers community, the potential for support is there. New Jersey is a strong hockey state, with very limited close-to-home hockey options for potential student-athletes.
“Right now, players in this community seeking a hockey scholarship have no choice but to look out of state and for a community that has churned out so much great talent over the past 10 years,” Kaassian said. “It’d be nice to keep these guys at home so they can influence and inspire the next generation of players…Rutgers could be New Jersey’s team.”
The ball is rolling for Rutgers hockey. For now, Kaassian and his supporters will have to wait and see what the higher-ups think.
“I’ve met with administrators and presented them a lot of information on our case and the feedback has been very positive,” Klaassen said. “I truly believe the school gets what we’re trying to do, and I get the feeling they wish they can do something right away to help us. But the decision will ultimately be made by them. All we can do is make our best effort to convince them.”
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!