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Who's Next? B1G Hockey Expansion

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Taking a look at the possible options for who adds hockey next in the B1G Conference

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Being The Only Hockey Guy for TOC this season has not been an incredibly fun job. You can only write about losses so many times, knowing that most comments, and clicks will be about replacing a 5th year head coach before you lose the joy of writing. And that's a shame because I could easily just watch hockey, and love it. Thing is I love writing about hockey at The Only Colors for the past three seasons (sidenote: time goes way too fast when I feel like the most senior person at this here blog) and I decided I would get some joy back into writing again.

So I decided to finally write a piece on one of the topics in college hockey that gets me excited no matter how bad my team is playing, the future of the B1G Hockey Conference, and it's membership. Now, I have been pretty vocal about my disdain for the league, and I will always hold a candle for the CCHA. The fact is no matter how much I want the CCHA back, that league is dead, and the B1G is here to stay. There is the possibility for this league to be great, but one of the worst (OK no it's the worst thing) about the league is that a league with 6 teams is incredibly boring. It's boring while also making it difficult to see a way that more than three league teams ever make the NCAA postseason tournament with the way they will cannibalize each other.

So I decided to create a post today looking at who is best poised to join the B1G Conference from the group of 8 teams that currently do not field a varsity program. I created a scoring system (explained below) to rank the 8 Universities, and also to show who may be serious options. Now this is based entirely off of me creating a scoring system on my own, and with no inside sources at any schools. So I am absolutely open to suggestions on anything that I missed, ways to improve the rankings, and news that I may have missed. Keep in mind this is just a fun post during a dreadful hockey season and I hope it spurns some good conversations in the comments.

Scoring System and Rationale

Category Points
Club Team 2 per team
Club National Titles 1
Viable Rink Option 0-5
Buzz 2
Years AD has been at the school .1 per year
Department operates with "profit" 1
Department operates with deficit -1

These were the categories that I felt were most important when looking at the viability of an athletic department adding a Division I Varsity Ice Hockey program. As you can see there is the most emphasis on a viable rink option and whether the school has a club team (with bonus for a successful club program), and if there has been any buzz about the program being elevated at all. Usually when there is talk or pressure (like there was for years when Penn State was winning multiple club national titles) there is some genuine interest from the school in adding a program.

The reason I did not make the economic health of the athletic department heavier (which may be a mistake) is that in the case of the two most recent hockey program additions, Penn State and Arizona State, the bulk of the start-up cost came from a large private donor. So, while economic health is going to be needed to sustain a program past it's initial cost I felt it was not as crucial as the ability to be able to find hockey interested donors who can lead the way in starting a program. For the finance section of the scoring I used the USA Today Athletic Department Finances page which unfortunately has not had numbers since the 2013-14 year. That year was before Maryland and Rutgers joined the conference so there is a chance there scores could be effected by the lack of sufficient data. A teams received a point for "profit" if expenses were lower than revenue, and since Northwestern is a private school that does not share this data they scored a zero.

The Scoring

School Viable Rink Club Team Club National Titles AD Years Profit Deficit Buzz Total
Nebraska 5 2 0 0.3 1 0 1 9.3
Maryland 2 4 0 0.6 1 0 0 7.6
Iowa 3 2 0 1

1

0 .5 7.5
Rutgers 1 4 0 0 0 0 1 6
Indiana 0 4 0 0.7 1 0 0 5.7
Northwestern 2 2 0 .7 0 0 0.5 5.2
Illinois 0 4 2 0 0 -1 0 5
Purdue 0 2 0 2.2 0 -1 0 3.2

The Top Tier

There was a pretty clear separation using this scoring system for who was most prepared and/or likely to add a hockey program. The top three came out with two programs that I would have chosen in my top three (including the number one spot), but I was surprised at the presence of Maryland as the number two team. While the DC metro area is not a bad hockey market, especially with the Washington Capitols and Alex Ovechkin, I don't have much confidence that Maryland will add a hockey program anytime soon. Maryland was helped by the fact that they have a Division 2 and 3 ACHA club hockey program (with beautiful jerseys to boot) but they scored pretty low across all the other categories. There has been no media coverage of Maryland looking to add a hockey program, it is unlikely they could play in the Capitols arena, and I doubt their basketball arena has ice making capabilities. Now they do always have the option of pulling some money off of the Under Armour tree to aid in building an on-campus ice arena, but that is not a company with any strong ties to the game of hockey.

Nebraska is the school I have felt most confident in adding a program for the past two seasons, so it is not surprising that they come out on top of a scoring system I created. The Huskers play in a state with a strong USHL presence, which is great for recruiting, their is another varsity program in the state (Nebraska-Omaha), and the best part is the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln has ice-making capabilities. Frank the Tank, an Illinois blogger, wrote about the Huskers adding hockey back in March 2015 when their was talks of Arizona State joining the B1G as a hockey only member.

Instead, from what I’ve heard for at least the past year, Nebraska is by far the closest to jumping up to Division I hockey. The Cornhuskers’ new Pinnacle Bank Arena has icemaking capabilities and the school is also opening a new separate ice arena that can easily be used as a practice facility. Since Nebraska has the expensive physical facilities in place already, they’ve already fought the vast majority of the battle in starting a program. Nebraska has a top tier fundraising operation, as well, so they can get the money into place once they’re given the green light. There have been rumblings about Northwestern, Indiana and Iowa looking at hockey, but if you’re a betting person, you should wager heavily on Nebraska as the next existing Big Ten school to add the sport.

There have been rumors for years (I couldn't find trusted news sources in a quick search to verify truth) that Nebraska, when led by AD Tom Osborne struck a deal with Nebraska-Omaha that when Omaha got rid of their wrestling and football programs to not pull from the Huskers, the Huskers would in turn never add hockey. Even if that is true, Osborne is no longer the AD so I am not sure that is a big concern for the folks in Lincoln. The Mavericks of Omaha have a great coach in Dean Blais, they are in a great conference the NCHC, and they would probably not be scared of the Huskers adding a hockey program. It is not like the teams would be stocked with local talent (like wrestling) so their is not much to lose and a lot to gain from the Huskers adding a program.

Iowa finished just behind Maryland and if it hadn't been for Maryland having multiple club teams they would have finished 2nd. Coralville, Iowa has been approved to receive $9.5 million in state tax credits to build a 7,000 seat arena which will include an ice rink.

Plans call for the arena to include a single-sheet ice hockey surface to support the University of Iowa club hockey team, the Iowa Ice Hawks and the Iowa City/Coralville Youth Hockey teams. Project leaders are also targeting a possible collaboration with the United States Hockey League — a developmental league that includes teams in Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Waterloo, Des Moines and Sioux City.

The Hawkeyes have already cleared one of the biggest hurdles, building a rink close to campus. While on-campus arenas are more ideal, this rink is proposed to be a 5 minute drive from campus. Iowa like Nebraska would not have much in the way of local recruiting, but their are 5 USHL teams in the state as well as the possibility of going into Illinois to recruit. Iowa also gets a scoring bump from having the 2nd longest tenured athletic director from the hockey-less schools.

The alike but unalike middle tier

The "middle four" teams includes two schools I think were rated lower than their true abilities (Northwestern and Illinois), and two teams who were perhaps a little over inflated (Rutgers and Indiana).

Northwestern scores well in possible rinks and a slight buzz that was created when Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves mentioned that the school had a group, including Chris Chelios, that was exploring hockey at the school. There are two options in rinks for the United Center and the AHL's Allstate Arena in Rosemont. However, these rinks are approximately 40 minutes from campus (think Miami football and empty stands) but these arenas are much too large for Northwestern, and too far away. If Northwestern is to add hockey they will need a closer arena with no more than 6,000 seats.

Illinois was held back by not currently having an athletic director, crucial to leading the charge for hockey, and not having any great options for an arena. Illinois does have the best ACHA team out of the B1G, and they can take advantage of a fertile recruiting ground with no programs in the state. It is interesting to wonder if Don Mullet's son had come to Illinois to play club hockey rather than Arizona State. Mullet a Milwaukee businessman, donated part of the $32 million that ASU used to start their program.

Rutgers points from a petition that their club program started to promote them to NCAA Division I (a petition I signed fwiw), but that athletic department is in shambles, and there is no viable rink less than 40 minutes away. They do have a new athletic director, and will be getting increasing payouts from the B1G as a full fledged member so the outlook is getting more realistic. It would take a big time donor to step up at Rutgers, and competing in the battleground of Hockey East and ECAC recruiting would be difficult, but Rutgers is an exciting option for the league to add. Indiana got most of their points from having two ACHA teams, which struggle to compete in loaded regions, and they have the worst rink out of these 8. With 0 chance Assembly Hall ever hosts hockey this will only happen with a rink build.

Purdue

Purdue got basically all of their points from having the same athletic director for 22 years. They are the least likely team to ever add hockey, they already boast the least varsity sports in the conference, and they aren't in a state tnat has a desire to see NCAA hockey.

Wrapping Up

As you can see the future of the B1G is possibly exciting but also has no immediate plans on the horizon. The Penn State move to NCAA hockey was a slow march lasting close to 10 years it seemed like, while Arizona State came together extremely quick. Barring an Arizona State type surprise, I don't see any of these programs being NCAA ready in the next 3-5 years, a scary thought for an already blah conference.

The other option to keep an eye on is any program joining the conference in hockey only, a la Johns Hopkins in lacrosse. Outside of Arizona State there is no clear option to make the jump and going to an uneven 7 teams is far from ideal.

I appreciate any feedback or ideas you guys have and hope this distracts from the sadness that hockey stories have brought around here.