SCHLOSSMAN: What does the future hold for college hockey?

Arizona State is trying to lock down conference affiliation for its new Division I men's hockey program. The top two candidates are the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Big Ten has informed ...

A bird's eye view of Amalie Arena during Wednesday's practice at in Tampa for the Frozen Four. The Arena seats 20,500. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Arizona State is trying to lock down conference affiliation for its new Division I men's hockey program.

The top two candidates are the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Big Ten has informed the Sun Devils that it is not interested.

Signs right now are pointing to the NCHC as the most likely landing spot, but there's no question that Arizona State's arena situation is a hangup.

Its current home, Oceanside Ice Arena, is not a viable option longterm. It holds fewer than 1,000 people. A new arena or a solution may be coming, but league members will be apprehensive until there's tangible proof.

In the meantime, college hockey teams and fans are eagerly awaiting this development because it could trigger more movement.


Odd numbers

If Arizona State does wind up in the NCHC, it would have nine teams. That is not ideal. It means someone will have to be idle the last weekend of the regular season. It also throws the traditional playoff bracket for a loop.

Sure, the league could give a bye to the No. 1 seed. But then it loses out on revenue because its best team, with presumably an energized fan base at the end of a great season, won't be playing two home games in the first round.

If the NCHC believes another Pac-12 team is on the verge of adding men's hockey, it could wait it out. But nothing appears imminent. That means a battle within the league could ensue about the 10th team.

The teams in the Eastern part of the league-Miami and Western Michigan-would surely push for a program in their backyard like Bowling Green or Ferris State. Teams in the Western part of the league-Minnesota Duluth, North Dakota, St. Cloud State and Omaha-may push to make MSU-Mankato the 10th team.

Massive realignment?

Many have speculated that Miami and Western Michigan are unhappy with life in the NCHC and all of the travel involved (each team only has one driving road trip in league play), and that those programs could pull out and form or join a more centralized league.

There's a major roadblock to any of those ideas, though.


The NCHC has a massive buyout that makes leaving the conference a pricey proposition.

According to multiple sources, the league's buyout equates to the operating budget in that particular year. Right now, it would be roughly $1.5 million.

It also requires a 24-month notice or the penalty is even steeper.

The buyout makes it extremely difficult for any team to leave without a major conference helping to subsidize the buyout and move.

UND to the Big Ten?

The only college hockey league that could have the money to do that would be the Big Ten.

The Big Ten will soon sit at an odd number of teams when it adds Notre Dame in the fall of 2017, fueling speculation that it could look for an eighth member.

One team frequently involved in those rumors is North Dakota.


A move to the Big Ten would reunite UND with rival Minnesota, a major positive. But if there's anything that the Great College Hockey Schism of 2013 taught us, it's the value of regional and familiar rivals.

Fan support in the Big Ten has been dwindling. Sure, there are more games against big-named athletic programs like Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State. But hockey fans are a different breed. They would rather see St. Cloud State, Minnesota Duluth and Nebraska Omaha in town.

Holding onto those traditional rivals has been important for UND and cannot be overlooked. Nearly every weekend in the NCHC, there's a familiar and traditional foe coming into the building. UND fans love traveling, too.

They can drive to road series in Duluth, St. Cloud and Omaha. UND keeps its massive alumni base in Colorado engaged with series in Colorado Springs and Denver. Losing out on all of that would be a significant hit.

The nontraditional start times also have hurt in the Big Ten. It's not just the Thursday and Sunday games, it's the odd 2 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. start times that have happened on Saturdays.

UND was forced to play in a Big Ten Sunday game this season against Michigan State and there was no buzz from afar and no atmosphere in East Lansing, Mich., for that game. College hockey fans are used to their 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. starts on Friday and Saturday nights. Regularly playing on different nights and at odd times would not go over well with the North Dakota fan base.

Affiliate members in the Big Ten also shouldn't expect to see any television revenue generated by the Big Ten Network, so it doesn't promise to be a lucrative move.

Three years into the new era of college hockey, UND is the national champion, regularly landing top recruits and averaging more than a sellout per game. Things are going well right now for the UND men's hockey team.


If the Big Ten comes calling-it very well may not-the risks sure seem to outweigh the rewards.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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