Big Ten Expanding, College Hockey Speculation Follows

It appears the Maryland will announce later today that it will be joining the Big Ten Conference (possibly by the 2014-15 academic year) and it is expected that Rutgers will announce the same Tuesday. Now that the Big Ten is also a hockey conference, speculation and perhaps hopefulness leads to plenty of chatter about the potential for expansion within college hockey as well.

There’s nothing wrong with a little innocent speculation and conversation. Both Rutgers and Maryland would offer highly intriguing options for college hockey’s expansion, even if they’re somewhat puzzling additions to the Big Ten itself. Now, there’s no indication that either of these schools have any interest in adding hockey, but we won’t let that stop us from our little chat here.

In terms of footprint, a big reason these two are going to be added to the Big Ten, it would be a boon for college hockey’s reach as well, should either ever decide to add the sport.

Coming up after the jump, a look at the potential impact of Rutgers and/or Maryland hockey and why it may happen one day…

As far as the Big Ten is concerned, Rutgers is there to pull from the New York/New Jersey media market, while Maryland stretches the reach to the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore. As far as I can tell, those are the only reasons for the conference to continue its expansion to 14 teams after adding Nebraska two years ago.

Those are also relatively untapped markets for college hockey, in terms of having a big-name presence locally. The Big Ten’s brand is as strong as ever, which is why its potential to add more schools to its hockey conference could be to the benefit of college hockey as a whole. It increases exposure and marches toward a higher level of relevance in the college sports landscape nationally.

The Big Ten also comes with the Big Ten Network, which is in a lot of homes in a lot of major media markets. The ratings for college hockey haven’t been great across the board, but that doesn’t mean having more games on TV doesn’t matter. The more teams playing hockey in the Big Ten, the better the potential for a more robust television offering.

Here’s a look at what the two schools bring to the table for college hockey and what college hockey brings to the table for them…

Rutgers

Rutgers’s proximity to New York City would give college hockey a better foothold in the largest media market in the country. There are teams all over New York State, but none that close to the Big Apple. Having a team near the most populous area in the country is a good way to help build a program and attract fans. It also will attract recruits.

Placing a team at Rutgers also would capitalize on rapid hockey growth within the state of New Jersey, as well as the higher volume of local players making it to the college ranks. New York and New Jersey are becoming an exceptional areas for top-end hockey talent. A lot of those players are heading all over the country, many in the Northeast, but to have a chance to stay even a little closer to home would be attractive.

There’s obviously a huge alumni base for Rutgers as well, and perhaps there’s someone in there that wants to see this happen. Rutgers currently has an athletics program that is a bit smaller than some of the Big Ten schools, so there could be an opening somewhere in there for hockey one day.

While there are good reasons for adding, there are plenty others for not. There’s the all-important Title IX, which is a huge hurdle, and adds to the bigger hurdle of money. You also have to consider the market saturation for hockey with no less than three NHL teams right near the school.

It probably wouldn’t take a long time to build a hockey tradition and put together a good program the school can be proud of, but Rutgers (and Maryland), would likely prefer to focus on building its teams for competitiveness in football and basketball before ever considering adding a new sport to the fold.

Maryland

Maryland makes a lot of sense for a lot of the same reasons I mentioned Navy making sense for joining Atlantic Hockey last week, from a market perspective. The DC area has been blowing up hockey-wise recently and doesn’t have a host of alternatives to the Capitals right now. The location isn’t exactly fertile recruiting ground, but that’d only be an added bonus if it was, not crucial.

What makes Maryland all the more intriguing, is the close relationship of Under Armour founder and Maryland alum Kevin Plank with the school’s athletic department. Now billionaires don’t just give away money, but Plank probably wouldn’t mind seeing a potential for a new revenue stream opening up for his alma mater’s athletic department.

Additionally, Under Armour has very little foothold in hockey at the present (they do make Boston College’s jerseys though), and Maryland has proven to be somewhat of a testing ground for UA over the years. Based on his previous donations to the school, I don’t think you’d see Plank subsidizing a hockey program on his own, but he has been a big fundraiser for the school in addition to putting up his own money.

Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson told this to Capital News Service about the relationship between Plank and the school’s athletics department in April:

“He loves the state of Maryland, he loves this university and he loves this athletics program,” Anderson said in an interview. “He’s been very helpful. Anything that we need, he helps us find a way to get it and be successful.”

Every school tends to have several rich alumni, but few have one with Plank’s connection to sports and business interests within those sports. Just food for thought.

Maryland may be on the hook for a $50 million exit fee from the ACC and is fresh off of cutting eight varsity sports, so if this were to ever happen, it’d be years, maybe many years down the road.

Obviously, this is nothing more than wishful thinking at this point, but these schools moving to a new conference makes it just slightly more realistic. The Big Ten Conferences’s addition of hockey makes it more possible than ever before for these teams and other conference members to consider adding hockey. There is an incentive there that didn’t exist before and that’s what makes developments like these moderately fun for college hockey fans.

The Big Ten will be at six teams when it opens play next season. That number is not one I can see the conference holding at long-term. While it would be more likely for other teams already established within the Big Ten to make the jump to Division I in the nearer future, adding two more schools to the mix simply adds two more possibilities for down the road.

Those who have been following college hockey have always wondered what a Big Ten hockey conference would do for the game. Would it help college hockey grow or would taking those teams away from established hockey conferences hurt? We’re going to find out over the next several years, but expanding to 14 teams in other sports adds another intriguing wrinkle to this ongoing saga. Should be interesting to watch.

Being less familiar with these schools, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments if you’re a fan/student/alum of Maryland or Rutgers. What would other barriers be? What would other advantages be? The digital floor is yours.

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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3 Responses to Big Ten Expanding, College Hockey Speculation Follows

  1. Joe says:

    I am from the NJ area and I have been saying it for years that Rutgers should have a legit D1 hockey program. Seton Hall has South Mountain Arena right by campus which used to be the practice home of the Devils that has a nice little bowl of seats. Rutgers would have a little bit of a harder sell due to the closest small arena near them is where the Trenton Titans play. Either way, as you pointed out hockey is becoming huge in the NJ area.

    The EJHL Hitmen are becoming a factory for NCAA players, and you have other quality AAA programs in the area producing kids to the USHL as well. Rutgers is in the perfect position because around the middle of the state of NJ.

  2. Andrew says:

    Here is a picture of the inside of Cole Field House…Maryland’s old basketball arena…used here and there for indoor soccer and stuff today…I see great potential…

    Cole Field House

  3. Michael says:

    It would be great for Maryland to have a college hockey team. In addition to a growing hockey market due to the play of the Capitals, the DC area is very transient and consists of a lot of transplants. While that might not help for a home-ice advantage, it would help tickets sales greatly. But as you said, the financial situation for Maryland athletics is dire. I believe they were last even in the ACC in spending on the football team and will want to increase that number first. I imagine it would be at least 5-7 years before Maryland even thinks about adding a hockey team.

    Considering existing Big 10 schools, I’m surprised that Northwestern University doesn’t have a hockey team. Considering they are a wealthy, private school near a good hockey market in Chicago, they should have a team by now. Any ideas as to why that is?

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