Penn State Arrives: Make Official Plans to Join College Hockey
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. Penn State made it official today, announcing its plans to create an NCAA Division I men's and women's ice hockey program. It will begin play as an independent in 2012-13, with plans to join as-yet-unknown conference beginning in 2014-15, when its new arena should be ready.
The news represents a seismic event for college hockey. Penn State, located in central Pennsylvania, is the largest and arguably most prestigious school to start a Division I men's ice hockey program since Notre Dame brought it back over four decades ago.
The announcement was made on campus following the school's board of trustees meeting, which approved an $88 million plan to build a new on-campus ice arena, and endow 38 scholarships — 18 for men and 20 for women.
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 and class of 1973 alumnus Terry Pegula stepped up to make a hefty donation.
Pegula, who recently profited $4.7 billion in a land deal, donated most of the $88 million. 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.
The arena is expected to be completed by April 2014. Until then, Penn State will play in the Penn State Ice Arena, which currently houses its club programs and seats 1,350.
The question on everyone's mind, however, is what conference Penn State will eventually land in, and how that will impact college hockey as a whole.
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?
While the wheels certainly seem in place for a Big Ten Hockey Conference, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley only said that the issue remains to be studied.
"We will work closely with our colleagues in the Big Ten Conference, and our colleagues in the college hockey community to determine an appropriate conference for the future," Curley said.
With that, he did say that Penn State was aware of the isues, and how a Big Ten Hockey Conference might impact all of college hockey.
"Our goal is to work with the hockey community to make sure we continue to advance the growth of the sport," Curley said. "We have no intention of hurting any conference or hurting college hockey. One of the reasons Terry was so passionate was not only to grow Penn State, but also to make this a transformational gift that impacts all of North American hockey. So we're sensitive to it.
"At the end of the day, we'll do what's best for everyone, but also obviously what's best for Penn State."
As for a coach, Curley said the first order of business is getting an architect in place to build the new arena. Once done, Penn State will conduct a national search.
"Some time in the next year we'll address coaches for both programs," Curley said. "The bottom line is, we think our programs will have great coaching staffs, and we look forward to having great leaders."
As Curley pointed out, the announcement comes at a time when hockey in Pennsylvania is on a high. The Pittsburgh Penguins, a couple hours to the Southwest from State College, are recent Stanley Cup champions and will host the 2011 NHL Winter Classic; the Philadelphia Flyers made the Stanley Cup finals; the nearby Hershey Bears have won two straight AHL championships; and Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were recently selected to host the 2013 and 2014, respectively, NCAA Frozen Four.
"The addition of the Big Ten Network will alow the Big Ten and Penn State to gain maximum exposure and visibility for hockey fans in the Big Ten footprint and beyond," Curley said. "We believe Penn State will be very successful. Pennsylvania enjoys great hockey. ... Participation in youth and high school hockey is at an all-time high. And the number of new rinks are expanding."