The impending announcement that Penn State will be adding varsity men's hockey got me thinking -- what other schools would be solid additions to the Division I men's ice hockey landscape?
Here are my thoughts on five such programs that would be good additions and would help grow the sport (read: don't have the potential to shake up the college hockey conference landscape). Of course, this list isn't without this blog's typical Boston College, East coast bias.
Leave your own thoughts in the comments section.
It's always surprising to me that BC's former Big East rivals down I-90 don't have a varsity men's hockey team. Upstate New York is one of the best areas of the country for college hockey. The state is home to just as many Division I programs (10) as Massachusetts, the most of any other state in the country. Niagara, Canisius, RIT and Army all play in Atlantic Hockey, while Cornell, Colgate, St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Union and RPI play in the ECAC. Just last season, we saw RIT reach the program's first Frozen Four after only their fifth season as a member of Division I.
In 2008 Syracuse's women's hockey program made the jump to Division I, joining College Hockey America. The team currently plays in the 6,230 seat Onandaga War Memorial in downtown Syracuse, as the school renovates Tennity Ice Skating Pavilion.
There is clearly some demand for minor league hockey in the area, with the AHL's Syracuse Crunch drawing fairly well and maintaining a natural rivalry with the Rochester Americans. Just last year, the Crunch played in the AHL's first ever outdoor game against the Binghamton Senators at the New York State Fairgrounds, setting an AHL attendance record with 21,508 in attendance.
An Orange men's hockey team could probably play at the Onandaga War Memorial while the school awaits the renovations to the Tennity Ice Skating Pavilion for the women's team. The biggest hurdle for Syracuse, however, wouldn't be availability of a viable playing facility, but rather pesky Title IX. The school would need to field another women's program to make room for the added scholarships needed to field a men's ice hockey team, with Syracuse already fielding programs for women's hockey, women's lacrosse and women's field hockey.
Syracuse is a great hockey town, but I also wonder where a men's ice hockey program would rank on the student body's interest depth chart. So long as 'Cuse continues to be a national power in men's basketball and men's lacrosse, you can't help but think men's ice hockey would have a tough go of it trying to climb the depth chart, placing hockey fourth (or even lower) behind football, men's hoops and lacrosse.
James Curle over at the N.C. State blog Riddick & Reynolds recently tackled the issue of whether the Wolfpack should elevate their men's club program to varsity. The Pack's club team has been a perennially strong club team that recently drew 500 fans for last year's games against Duke and UNC. The timing might work, too, with newly installed AD Debbie Yow having come from a school that saw their total number of varsity programs grow to 27 under her watch. N.C. State currently has 24 varsity programs, putting State in the middle of the pack in the ACC, despite having the conference's third largest undergraduate enrollment.
The one huge advantage that N.C. State would have in a move like this is the NHL-quality facility that already exists in their backyard. The RBC Center is currently home to the Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State basketball and could easily double as an arena for the 'Pack. The school would be able to clear the toughest hurdle in fielding a program -- the capital expenditure in securing an NCAA-calibre facility.
N.C. State also adds a southern dancing partner to Alabama-Huntsville, who is currently stuck in limbo as an independent with the recent dissolution of the CHA. N.C. State and UAH could probably join Atlantic Hockey as the conference's 13th and 14th members as the Wolfpack hockey program gets their legs, with an eye towards joining their ACC frenemies in Hockey East down the road.
The elevation of Wolfpack hockey to varsity also provides one more chance for BC to slap around N.C. State in another sport. How about scheduling a hockey-football doubleheader weekend with the Wolfpack like the Eagles typically have with the Irish?
Navy is the lone holdout of the nation's three service academies not to play NCAA Division I hockey, as Army and Air Force now both play in Atlantic Hockey. Currently, the Midshipmen compete at the ACHA Division I level in the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association, along with local area club programs such as Villanova, Towson, Scranton, Drexel and Lehigh.
Despite not playing hockey at the Division I level, Navy actually co-hosted the 2009 Frozen Four at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC.
Navy's club team currently plays at the McMullen Hockey Arena, a 2,648 capacity on-campus facility that the Naval Academy literature is quick to point out meets NCAA standards for hockey rink design.
The Middies could join the other two service academies in Atlantic Hockey and annually compete for the hockey version of the Commander-in-Chief trophy.
If Navy were to make the jump to Division I, they could bring UAH into the fold in Atlantic Hockey, placing a second or third (N.C. State!) college hockey team below the Mason-Dixon line.
The one remaining hurdle for the school appears to be finding the resources (read: cash) to support the program. Navy's AD sounds like he's handcuffed on elevating the program to varsity having to support 30 other varsity programs. I guess Navy's AD knows something about fielding a DI hockey program too, as he's a BC grad and a former Eagles AD.
Pittsburgh and West Virginia
Nearby Robert Morris University added men's hockey for the 2004-05 season, competing in College Hockey America for six seasons before making the moving to Atlantic Hockey for this season. While Robert Morris didn't make much noise in the four team CHA, they did make the conference championship game twice -- in 2007 and 2009.
The Colonials are also the hosts in name for the 2013 Frozen Four at the new Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. With back-to-back Frozen Fours scheduled in Pennsylvania in 2013 and 2014, combined with the addition of Penn State to Division I, the timing couldn't be better for a big-time athletics department like Pitt to join in on the men's college hockey party.
Pitt could be a great addition to the CCHA if that conference loses Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State to a newly created Big Ten hockey conference. Plus there would be a number of nearby programs the Panthers could play as part of their non-conference slate of games, including Penn State, Robert Morris, Mercyhurst, Bowling Green and Miami (Ohio).
Of course, a move by Pitt to Division I hockey wouldn't be complete without bringing their Backyard Brawl rivals in tow. West Virginia's club team actually won last year's ACHA Division I CHMA division, finishing with a record of 23-10. The Mountaineers club team currently competes with clubs like Pittsburgh, Duquesne, Youngstown State and John Carroll in the CHMA.
Finally, just like the Pitt football program, the skating Panthers could share a stadium with Pittsburgh's pro team, playing at the Penguins new 18,087 seat Consol Energy Center.
Also Considered: Villanova, Maryland, Illinois, Indiana