Penn State To Add Varsity Hockey? What This Move Could Mean For BC Hockey

According to an article from Inside College Hockey, Penn State could be ready to launch a men's ice hockey program, with a formal announcement coming on Friday:

"In a move that will significantly alter the college hockey landscape, the formal announcement of Penn State’s plans to launch of a men’s hockey program is imminent, sources tell Inside College Hockey.

Multiple sources in college and junior hockey, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the plan; one source told INCH that the university will make a formal announcement this Friday. A Penn State spokesperson late last week declined to comment on the matter."

The Nittany Lions' timing couldn't be more perfect, with the NCAA recently announcing that the 2013 and 2014 Frozen Fours will be played in Penn State's backyard. Penn State would become the 59th Division I men's hockey program, and while any sort of NCAA men's hockey expansion is great for the sport, I think this move could hurt the BC program in the long run.

A move like this comes with great speculation that Penn State could help the other Big Ten programs playing men's ice hockey break away from the CCHA and the WCHA and create their own, six-team league. Six is the minimum number of schools required by the NCAA for a conference to be awarded an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

If Penn State joined Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State and Minnesota in a six-team Big Ten, the Big Ten could reap the benefits of airing Big Ten hockey on their successful BTN, pumping even more money and bringing even more exposure to their hockey programs.

A Big Ten hockey conference would also significantly shift the balance of power in men's college hockey. Currently, the balance of power seems to annually shift among the WCHA, CCHA and Hockey East. With traditional hockey powers Wisconsin and Minnesota in the WCHA, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State in the CCHA, and Boston College, BU, New Hampshire and Maine in Hockey East, the balance of power seems to rotate every few years among the three power conferences.

If the Big Ten hockey schools were to break away from the WCHA and the CCHA, they would be creating a power Big Ten conference that I don't think Hockey East could compete with in terms of being the premiere college hockey conference. Over time, we might see a geographic shift in NCAA Tournament locations where more regionals are played in Big Ten markets. Currently, the Eastern hockey teams typically benefit from two of the four Regionals being played in their backyard (typically, Worcester, Manchester, Providence and locations in Connecticut). A Big Ten hockey league would also garner more revenue (through a BTN television agreement) and exposure than leagues like Hockey East and the remnants of the CCHA and WCHA ever could.

The programs in a six-team Big Ten hockey league would also be looking for quite a few non-conference opponents to fill the schedule. BC, however, is afforded just a handful of non-conference scheduling slots after Hockey East play and the Beanpot. The Eagles could miss out on the exposure and revenue potential of scheduling non-conference opponents from a Big Ten hockey conference.

In the end, while any sort of college hockey expansion is good for the sport, Penn State adding Division I men's ice hockey could set in motion a complete re-write of the college hockey conference landscape. If the CCHA doesn't pick up Penn State as the league's twelfth member and the Big Ten creates their own six-team conference, there may be significant changes to college hockey that won't be in the best interest of the Boston College program.

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