There are 44 days until the University of North Dakota hockey team kicks off the 2017-18 season (the skate for nine) on October 6-7, 2017, against the University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves. I’ve been following this developing story all summer long.
Currently, the Big Ten Hockey Conference has seven schools. Obviously, the conference would like to get to an even number of schools. More and more, it appears that the University of Illinois is putting its foot in the water and exploring the possibility. You don’t have to be a scheduling guru to know that It would be easier to schedule eight schools instead of seven. That’s one of the issues the BTHC is looking at.
There’s no question that we want to try to get to eight teams, and now we’re at seven,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia told the Pioneer Press. “They have a very good program, and it’s a perfect fit as far as the other Big Ten members – they were a logical seventh. Now we’ll figure out who the logical eighth is – if there is one.”
Instead of blowing up college hockey with another round of poaching teams from other established conferences; adding a 61st team from their own conference makes a lot of sense.
One possibility that has emerged in this past year has been the University of Illinois. The athletic director for Illinois Josh Whitman is taking a look at adding division I college hockey. According to NCAA.com, Illinois will partner with the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) to evaluate the possible addition of hockey as a varsity sport.
A 100 Million to Add Hockey?
Like any school that wants to add hockey, the biggest issues facing the school is funding. Of course, adding division I hockey is easier said than done. Most schools, even the Power Five schools don’t have 100 million dollars lying around.
“The challenge is to raise that kind of money, I think a lot of people who haven’t necessarily raised money on a professional level, they think you do it in quantity,” Whitman told Jeremy Werner of Scout.com.“Like you go out and say, ‘Oh, we’ll go out and raise $100,000 at a time.’ Well, $100,000 at a time to get whatever that number is — whether it’s $30 million or $60 million or $80 million — that’s a lot of $100,000 donations. The good thing is there are probably 10 to 20 people who have the capacity and the potential interest in supporting a project like that that make it relatively straightforward for us to figure out whether this is a possibility or not. We can work our way through our list.”
From my seat, the Illini appear to be an obvious choice. According to the NCAA, the state of Illinois produces the fifth-most division I college hockey players. Adding hockey makes all kinds of sense for the Illini.
“I think it would be great to get our fans together that many nights a year to give them something to celebrate,” Whitman said. “I think it’s something we can be great at given the quality of play that’s happening in the state of Illinois. We produce the fifth-most Division-I hockey players in the country, but we (as a state) have no Division-I hockey programs. I think we can be really, really good. I think that would help in terms of our reputation, our brand. I think it would get our fans excited.”
We Take a Look Back
Back in February, a certain twitter feed was predicting that the University of North Dakota was going to be asked to join the BTHC. It would appear that rumor has lost steam on his account. Again, at the time, not a single hockey focused writer was reporting that rumor. As this story unfolds, it’s going to be interesting to see if Illinois takes the steps necessary to add division I hockey. The more the merrier.