Today marked a landmark day filled with both hope and worry for fans of NCAA hockey. Penn State University announced today that they will be spending $88 million in donated funds by Terry and Kim Pegulas to build an ice hockey facility on campus and join the ranks of Division I hockey.
“We feel extraordinarily fortunate to have had great success due to the efforts of the exceptional management and fine employees of East Resources Inc., providing indigenous energy to the United States,” said Terry Pegula. “We want to share our success with the people of Pennsylvania and with the very institution that helped me obtain the tools to launch my career in the oil and natural gas industry.
“We will now see through the hard work of the Penn State family that our passion will be shared with the families and communities of the region surrounding Penn State. We expect that Penn State will become a destination, not just for top college players and coaches, but also for the growing base of hockey fans from across the Commonwealth and the country.”
The addition of Penn State to the ranks of Division-I NCAA hockey will give them 60 teams. Penn State will spend their first two seasons, starting with the 2012-2013 seasons, playing as an independent team with no conference affiliation. After that, however, it remains to be seen what will happen next. The leading speculation is that the Big Ten Conference will come to college hockey and with it, the other five current Big Ten institutions (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota) that field teams will join Penn State to form their own conference.
The prospect of having a Big Ten Hockey Conference is one that’s long been discussed by fans but one thought to ultimately be a pipe dream. With Penn State’s announcement today it seems like a foregone conclusion that there will be one come 2014-2015. While some, like The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy, look at this as something that will be a huge boon to NCAA hockey, others are worried that the creation of a Big Ten Hockey Conference will only serve to hurt more current teams than to help the sport on the whole.
After all, taking the three biggest schools out of the CCHA (Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State) while leaving a majority of smaller schools as well as Notre Dame on their lonesome could leave the CCHA to be financially strapped and cause smaller schools like Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State or financially struggling ones like Bowling Green to feel an even bigger bite on their collective wallets. The WCHA which would lose Minnesota and Wisconsin in the potential deal, on the other hand, would see two of their biggest money-winners depart but would stay strong with North Dakota and other Minnesota state schools.
While that’s all speculative for now, Penn State joining college hockey puts a high-profile face on a sport that’s been dominated by the smaller schools and with the prospect of the Big Ten and their television network jumping into the fray, one that could open the doors for other major universities to want to jump in with them.