Expanding College Hockey: Which Schools Deserve Division I Programs

The Financials of College Hockey

There’s significant evidence that hockey is growing in the United States. But, in order to get national recognition from all fifty states, it will require a movement at the collegiate level. 

After winning their first Division 1 Men’s hockey game against Holy Cross in overtime, Long Island University Hockey posted to twitter in celebration. Via @LIUMHockey

College hockey is already widely successful. Take this article from The Center Square that published data from the U.S. Department of Education, and you’ll see that most Division I collegiate hockey programs are very profitable. In fact, the average Division I program rakes in over $2-million in revenue against operating budgets of a little over $1-million.

Considering most college sports operate at a deficit, that’s not too shabby. Plus, if you take the average hockey revenue from major athletic programs with FBS football teams, it’s closer to $3-million in revenue. More than the likes of baseball, lacrosse, soccer, and others.

Now, hockey is considered by the naive to be a niche sport with a “cult” following. But if you look at the institutions that took a chance on having a hockey program, they’re actually doing very well.

For instance, Arizona State University is bringing in close to $3.5 million per year in hockey revenue, even before finishing their new facility. The most successful schools, including Boston University, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of North Dakota bring in revenues from $5-million to $9-million per year. So what’s preventing schools across the country from starting programs?

What Are the Drawbacks?

To begin with, it’s expensive to build and maintain an ice rink. That’s not to say that Division I schools should be discouraged from playing in sub-5,000 seat rinks, they shouldn’t. Consider the fact that we just watched an entire Stanley Cup Playoffs with no fans in the arena.

Unfortunately, the unrealistic standard that major athletic programs believe they have to compete with prevents them from diving into hockey. Problem is, not everybody knows a Terry Pegula, or is a phone call away from a $50-million grant. Therefore, it’s much easier for an athletic department to add a program with lower costs up-front, like Soccer or Lacrosse.

To solve this problem, it’ll take the outspoken support from the hockey community. Those who grew up playing in dimly lit rinks with downtrodden locker rooms. Those who want to see their college alma mater play ice hockey against their arch rival. Of course, it’s going to be even harder for athletic departments to add hockey programs due to the economic impact of the pandemic. However, LIU may set an example for how universities can overcome that challenge. So, in the interest of advancing the discussion, below is a list of colleges and universities that should consider adding a Division I program.

Potential Programs

East:

Rutgers University

This is Devils Army Blog, so examining the tri-state area is a must. With that in mind, the first school worth pointing out is New Jersey’s state university: Rutgers.

Hear me out, Rutgers is an established state university that contends in a revenue sharing power five conference: the Big Ten. The university is top-40 in USA Today’s NCAA Finances list, bringing in over $103-million in revenue from athletics per year.

The campus is located in New Brunswick, NJ and the school also currently has an ACHA Division 1 Club Ice Hockey team. The Scarlet Knights often play at Proskate Ice Arena, although, it’s entirely possible they’d play games at Prudential Center. If, of course, awarded a Division I program.

Syracuse University

Next on my list of potential tri-state area hockey teams is Syracuse. I’m not entirely sure why this hasn’t happened yet. The Orange have had a club hockey program for 60 years, having immense success in Division I of the ACHA. Having under-achieved in Football in recent years, it would make complete sense to try and transition hockey into a Division I varsity sport. I imagine they would play in the ECAC or the Atlantic Hockey Association, and most likely have a huge draw from the school’s vast alumni network.

United States Naval Academy

The Naval Academy is a renowned instituion that’s in a great position to build a hockey program. There are already some rumblings that Navy may build a Division 1 hockey program, and join the Atlantic Hockey Association. Plus, they have their own on-campus arena, named after John D. McMullen, a 1940 graduate of the Naval Academy.

This is the locker room for the Naval Academy at McMullen Hockey Arena. (Photo via Navy’s Hockey website)

Just imagine if we got to see the midshipmen face-off in a spirited bout against Army or Airforce once a year.

University of Maryland

Another school in the Washington-Baltimore area that could support hockey is University of Maryland. College Park is situated just 25 minutes northeast of Washington D.C., home to the 2018 Stanley Cup Champion Capitals.

I firmly believe Maryland would be a desirable school for east coast hockey players looking for a warmer climate. Plus, there is no doubt that Under Armour would jump at the opportunity to create the loudest uniforms in college hockey.

Midwest:

These jerseys can be purchased from Illini Hockey themselves. (Via Illini Hockey Twitter page)

University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign

Sticking in the Big Ten, another candidate to add to the most powerful conference in college hockey is University of Illinois. This transition already had momentum, but was put on pause when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. With any luck, Illinois will be sporting the above sweaters within the next five years.

Indiana University Bloomington

This is personal for me, as I played four years on the club hockey team at Indiana. Though the Hoosier state is some time away from having significant support for hockey at the grassroots level, the process could certainly be sped up by adding a Division 1 team in Bloomington.

Currently Indiana has two club hockey teams in Division II and III of the ACHA. The school also has a spirited philanthropy tournament called Dropping the Puck on Cancer. Further, the Hoosiers would have the advantage of joining the Big Ten, which is already broadcasted on three different platforms.

The above ESPN personalities are sporting the Indiana hockey jerseys. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

Another bonus for Indiana is having potentially the greatest hockey jerseys to grace this earth recognized by two notable ESPN personalities: John Buccigross & Sage Steel.

University of Iowa

“Managers and city officials excited to open Xtream Arena in Coralville, Iowa”
Via Iowa City News (KWWL)

Thought there wasn’t room for hockey in Iowa? Think again. According to the Iowa City Press Citizen, Xtream Arena will be home to an ECHL team next fall. Since Iowa’s volleyball and wrestling teams compete in Xtream Arena, I see no reason not to introduce Hawkeye Hockey to the Big Ten.

South:

Vanderbilt University

I know from personal experience that Vanderbilt’s club hockey team has plenty of room for improvement. But give them a promotion to Division 1 and you will have players chomping at the bit to play there.

Vanderbilt is not only a great school, it’s also located in Nashville, TN, just a mile and a half away from Broadway Street, where the Nashville Predators play. The Predators also have a practice facility about 15 minutes away, where Vanderbilt could split time and practice. Plus, signs point to the fact the Predators would be interested in supporting Vandy. They’ve already supported the Kentucky Ice Hockey Association and Louisville Club hockey in the past.

North Carolina State

NC State’s campus is in Raleigh, NC. This is just 10 minutes away from where the Carolina Hurricanes play. The team could split time between there and their current rink (The Raleigh IcePlex) if they were to go Division I.

Not only that, I am also sure they’d get support from the student body, as the team was good enough to make the ACHA Division II National Championships last year.

The University of Alabama always draws a good crowd at the school’s hockey games. (Photo via Robert Sutton)

University of Alabama

This is one of the wealthiest athletic departments in the nation. So there is no doubt they have the means and ability to make this happen. Not to mention, the school’s club hockey program is prosperous, drawing attention for their success in Division I of the ACHA, and their shockingly large turnout at home games.

They would be the perfect rival to Alabama Huntsville, who recently kept their program alive through the charitable donations of the powerful hockey community.

West:

One way for the Pac-12 to reach the national stage more often would be to invest in the developing sport of ice hockey. As we’ve seen through the NHL, hockey is gaining popularity in California, Arizona, and Nevada. With the success of those NHL cities, I think some Pac-12 teams may be ready to dive into hockey.

University of California, Los Angeles

UCLA obviously has a prominent athletics program with a storied history. The school’s club hockey team has done well for themselves too. Playing in Division II of the ACHA, the program draws hockey players from all over. They’ve even had cameos at the Staples Center, which tells you the Los Angeles Kings could get behind this movement as well.

The University of Arizona’s hockey team plays at the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners home arena. (Photo via the Tucson Roadrunners website)

University of Arizona

This might be a stretch, but Arizona already shares an arena with the Arizona Coyotes’ minor league team, the Tucson Roadrunners. This gives them what has to be the most impressive arena in club hockey. With a little help from the athletic department, they could be rivals on the ice with Arizona State in the near future.

University of Washington

Since they just put an NHL team in Seattle, this idea may be on the back-burner. But, I’d like to believe Washington could pretty easily transition into a hockey school if they wanted.

The school would find plenty of recruits in the pacific northwest to play at the Division I level. Those who wanted an education while pursuing competitive hockey, as opposed to going straight to the WHL. Plus, they could play big games at Climate Pledge Arena, which is less than five miles off-campus- closer than OlympicView arena, where they currently play.

Conclusion

Now, I may have missed some obvious targets for hockey schools, replacing them for ambitious ideas. Thus, I’d like to encourage readers to continue the discussion with our hockey fans in the comments, on Twitter, or any of our other social media platforms. After all, it just took a little bit of traction to realize the concept of Division I hockey at Arizona State. Now, they’re on their way to a brand new $115-million, on-campus arena.

Be on the look out for Episode 27 of Devils Army Cast where we will be discussing college hockey and this very article.

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6 comments on “Expanding College Hockey: Which Schools Deserve Division I Programs”

  1. Mac Reply

    Great article about how the great game of hockey can continue to grow in the USA. Interesting perspective . Nice work George.

  2. Nick Reply

    great article… considering that having a decent rink is the biggest hurdle, I would add the following to your list of potential expansion candidates:
    NORTH: Lindenwood (Centene), Nebraska (possible Breslow expansion/Pinnacle), Iowa (Xtream), Iowa St. (possible ISU arena expansion), Rhode Island (Boss), Delaware (Rust), Penn (Class of 1923 arena), Ohio (Bird), Illinois St. (Grossinger)
    SOUTH: Georgia (Classic Center expansion), Liberty (LaHaye), FGCU (Hertz), Tennessee (Knoxville Civic Coliseum), High Point (preliminary proposal for a D1 hockey arena in ’19), Wake Forest (Winston-Salem Fairgrounds Annex)
    WEST: UNLV (new Henderson Events Center/Orleans), Oregon (possible McArthur renovation), San Jose St. (Solar4America expansion)

  3. rudy Reply

    UPenn should restore irs program. For years Philly supported a NHL team and AHL team.
    UIC should restore its team. The Chicago Blackhawks revived hockey in Chicago.
    Northwestern has the alumni dollars to start a team.
    Any Philly University would be a success if UPenn doesn’t jump.

  4. Darryn DuShane Reply

    Why doesn’t Colorado or Colorado State start D1 Programs. That would create a 4th team in Colorado.
    Just imagine the mid winter tournament they could have at the Pepsi Center for the Mile High or Centennial Cup.

  5. Adam Stern Reply

    Great article. It is amazing that 4 storied NHL cities don’t have a Div. 1 team: New York, Philly, Chicago and St. Louis:
    – Chicago- UIC and Northwestern were mentioned. But why not DePaul. They can play their games in Rosemont where basketball played before the WinTrust arena was built or add ice to Wintrust.
    -Philly- as mentioned above, UPenn but also Temple. They play football where the Eagles play so add a team and play where the Flyers play. Students have no issues going to Owl football across town so why not hockey also.
    – Another option is UW-Milwaukee or Marquette. There is a downtown ice hockey arena near both campuses. Also, UW-Green Bay. They can play at the Resch center.

  6. SoCal Bob Reply

    UC-Irvine actually is far and away the most obvious choice in Southern California. The Ducks just built a state-of-the-art facility near the UCI campus that includes a 2500 seat arena that already has hosted college hockey games (https://www.greatparkice.com/general-info/events/socal-clash/). Ducks billionaire owner Henry Samueli can seed-fund the program; he previously donated $200 million to the university. But they need more regional competition than just ASU.

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