Penn State Announcement Expected Friday
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Penn State is expected to announce Friday its intentions to form an NCAA Division I men's and women's ice hockey program, College Hockey News has confirmed.
Penn State, which has iced a successful club program for decades but has never pulled the trigger on a leap to a varsity program, got the boost it needed when long-time supporter Terry Pegula stepped up to make a hefty donation.
Pegula, who recently profited $4.7 billion in a land deal, donated a large chunk of the $88 million required to kick-start the building of an arena and funding 18 scholarships for both men and women. According to sources, there was more than one donor involved, however.
Upwards of $75 million will go to fund the arena, which will be 6,000 to 8,000 seats, house two ice sheets, and be situated on campus, near the basketball arena (the Bryce Jordan Center). The remaining money will endow the scholarships.
According to sources, Penn State plans to go in full steam ahead. What that means exactly, still remains to be seen.
The arena is expected to be completed by September 2013, but whether Penn State would start playing before then is unclear. Currently, the club team plays in a 1,350-seat arena.
But the big question is moreso, what conference will Penn State join, if any? And, to what extent has that already been figured out?
For more than a decade, college hockey has speculated on what would happen if Penn State decided to start a D-I program. As the sixth Big Ten school playing men's hockey — the minimum for a conference to receive an automatic NCAA Tournament qualifier — would a Big Ten Conference then be formed? College hockey is about to find out.
It seems unlikely that Penn State would devote this much energy to starting a program, however, without some agreement in place about where it will go.
“I can’t imagine Penn State going to the effort of adding hockey without the understanding it will be playing other Big Ten schools,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia told the Duluth News-Tribune.
That could mean, of course, playing in the CCHA, which has three other Big Ten schools already in it — Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. And the CCHA has an "opening," after losing Nebraska-Omaha this year.
Meanwhile, the WCHA, in particular, has been bracing for the possibility of a Big Ten Conference becoming a reality. While it was just a concept for years, it has become a more imminent reality over the last year, with the Big Ten Network taking off as it has and pressure building for the hockey-playing schools to play each other more often.
Consequently, the WCHA has held many serious meetings over the last year about this possibility.
“We’ve all heard the talk of a Big Ten Conference in hockey for the last four or five years, and it picked up more steam in the last year,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin told the Tribune. “If Penn State starts hockey, then the league looks like a good possibility."
Another question is personnel. It seems likely that current club coach Scott Balboni will not be retained. It also seems likely that Penn State will go after a big name to start its program.
Calls to Penn State's athletic department have gone unreturned.