In a move that could shake up the college hockey world, Penn State announced Friday that it will use an $88 million private donation to build a new hockey rink and to upgrade its men’s and women’s hockey programs from club to Division I status. The teams will begin Division I play in the 2012-13 season and plan to join a conference in 2014.
That all but means that a Big Ten men’s hockey conference will be formed, altering the alignments of the WCHA and the CCHA, two of the country’s five Division I hockey conferences.
The WCHA includes two men’s Big Ten teams — Minnesota and Wisconsin — and the CCHA includes three — Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. A Big Ten hockey conference would include these five teams and Penn State. Currently, no other Big Ten schools have men’s Division I teams.
The Big Ten issued a statement saying that “Big Ten rules allow for a championship whenever there are six institutions sponsoring a program in any given sport. This leads to the presumption that there will be a Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Championship at some point in the future.
“A decision of that nature, however, cannot be made without a significant amount of discussion both internally with conference chancellors, presidents, administrators and coaches, and externally with the hockey community as a whole.”
Penn State’s men’s and women’s teams will not be part of any conference for their first two years of division-one play, Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley said in a press conference Friday.
The teams will begin conference play in 2014-15 after construction of the new arena is completed, Curley said, and in the meantime will play their first two seasons in the Penn State Ice Pavilion, where the club teams currently play.
Their conference affiliations are yet to be determined, Curley added.
Gophers men’s hockey coach Don Lucia told the Duluth News Tribune earlier in the week that he did not think Penn State would add a men’s Division 1 team without the assurance that it would be playing other Big Ten schools.
Wisconsin men’s coach Mike Eaves said in an interview with the Minnesota Daily that “my understanding [is that] the gentleman giving the money is only giving the money if there’s a Big Ten league coming together.”
Possibly in preparation for the shake up, the WCHA added Bemidji State and Denver to the conference this year .
“We have no intention of hurting any conference or hurting college hockey,” Curley said.
Eaves said the WCHA and the CCHA would survive “without question” even without their Big Ten member teams, citing that with a six-team conference schedule, the Big Ten teams would have to maintain relations with teams from their former conferences.
The Star Tribune reported that, according to conference commissioner Bruce McLeod, the WCHA Final Five would be played in St. Paul even if Minnesota left the conference.
“I think [a Big Ten hockey conference] would give college hockey a real blast,” Eaves said, “and put us into the forefront.”
The $88 million, donated by Penn State alum and oil tycoon Terry Pegula, was the largest private gift in the school’s history.
The donation will be used to fund construction of a 5,000- to 6,000-seat rink, which Spanier said will be “the only major rink within an 80-mile radius.”
Eaves said that, since the formation of the Big Ten Network, a Penn State team and a Big Ten hockey conference were inevitable.
“What drives a lot of things in life is the financial end of it,” Eaves said, “and once the Big Ten Network came into effect and got football and basketball going, the next revenue sport is hockey.”
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