Big Ten Officially Announces Hockey Conference
CHN Staff Report
PARK RIDGE, Ill. The Big Ten officially announced today its decision to form a Division I hockey conference, to begin play in 2013-14.
The league will include the six Big Ten that will be playing D-I hockey by then — current WCHA schools Minnesota and Wisconsin; current CCHA schools Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State; and newcomer Penn State, which will begin play as an independent in 2012-13.
The teams will play a 20-game league schedule, with each team playing each other four times. That would leave each team with at least 14 non-league games per season to fill. No formal scheduling agreement with the remaining CCHA and WCHA members is expected at this time, but the Big Ten said it was in discussions to do so. There will be a standalone conference tournament at the end of the season, though details were not announced at this time.
The Big Ten was ready to make an announcement as early as last week, following meetings among athletic directors at the league's basketball tournament. But it was convinced to wait as to avoid overshadowing the current conference's championship tournaments.
Technically, the decision still needs to be approved by the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors, which next meets in June.
The catalyst for the formation of the conference was Penn State's decision, announced last September, to start a Division I men's hockey program in 2012-13. The Big Ten requires six member schools sponsoring a sport in order to form an official conference, and Penn State makes six. The NCAA also requires a six-team minimum for a conference to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After the Penn State announcement, a Big Ten Hockey Conference was looking likely for 2014-15, but the timeline was moved up when construction on Penn State's arena started coming in ahead of schedule. With the arena now expected to be completed by the start of the 2013-14 season, the Big Ten decided then was the time to start Big Ten hockey. Penn State is currently looking for a head coach for the program.
“Adding hockey to the Big Ten Conference helps keep the sport moving in the right direction,” Mark Osiecki, Ohio State men’s ice hockey head coach, said. “Having even more games on the Big Ten Network will raise awareness both of Ohio State’s program and college hockey in the United States and Canada. It will make it even easier for our alumni to follow the team throughout the year. It is exciting both for our program, and for Ohio State fans, hockey is going to become a part of the great tradition of the Big Ten Conference.”
This possibility has long been feared by many in the hockey community because of the potential ramifications across the board. It remains to be seen what will happen to the remaining CCHA and WCHA schools.
The WCHA was riding high just last year when it decided to accept Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha as new members, with UNO jumping from the CCHA. Now, things will go the other way, with the league losing two flagship members — Wisconsin and Minnesota.
“It’s worth celebrating that a BCS conference institution in Penn State has joined the great landscape of college hockey. We are also pleased that the Big Ten has embraced this move by recommending that men’s hockey be added as an official conference sport,” Minnesota director of athletics Joel Maturi said. “At the same time there are some mixed emotions for us, as Minnesota is an original and proud member of the WCHA. We would depart with fond memories, and the sincere belief that many of the great WCHA rivalries that the Gophers have been a part of will continue through non-conference play.”
The College Hockey Showcase was held in recent years, pitting Wisconsin and Minnesota against Michigan and Michigan State. Wisconsin decided to pull out of that arrangement following this season, in hopes that a formal conference would soon come to be.
“We are excited about the possibility of a Big Ten hockey conference beginning with the 2013-14 season,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Our rivalry with Wisconsin is well documented and it will be nice to play Michigan and Michigan State more than once a year. It will also be exciting to create new rivalries with Ohio State and Penn State. Right now we enjoy playing in the WCHA and will work with the league and WCHA schools to maintain established and traditional rivalries to ensure a competitive and entertaining non-conference schedule.”
The CCHA, meanwhile, will be harder hit, after already losing UNO last year and now three more schools. In addition, most of the eight remaining CCHA schools are smaller than the ones in the WCHA, and rely more heavily on the revenue that schools like Michigan and Michigan State bring into the league. Western Michigan and Bowling Green, for example, had just gotten themselves back on solid footing as programs. Ferris State and Lake Superior State could also be negatively impacted.
There have been numerous discussions at the league level already as to how to react to the creation of a Big Ten Hockey Conference. But it will be up to each individual school to decide what it wants to do, if anything, and nothing is close to being worked out.