The Big Ten is expanding once again, this time in the form of adding a new sport.
On Monday it was announced that the Big Ten would be adding hockey as a conference affiliated sport starting in the 2013-14 winter season.
The Big Ten hockey conference will be made up of six teams; Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Penn State will be the initial members of the league.
The WCHA, which just added two new teams this season in Bemidji State and Nebraska Omaha, will drop down to a ten-team league as Minnesota and Wisconsin will be a part of the new Big Ten hockey conference.
Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State will leave the CCHA to join the Big Ten conference.
Penn State—who will begin playing division one hockey in the 2012-13 season—will be the sixth team in the new hockey conference.
While it may be a struggle early for the Nittany Lions, earlier this month Penn State was granted permission to talk to legendary Wisconsin women’s coach Mark Johnson about their vacant coaching position.
Johnson coached the USA women’s team in the 2010 Winter Olympics, and just days ago won his fourth women’s national championship with the Badgers. He was also a member of the 1980 USA men’s Olympic hockey team.
The conference season will consist of 20 conference games. Each team will play one another four times, twice at home and twice on the road.
They will then have 15 open non-conference games, which will allow for the Big Ten teams to continue previous rivalries with former WCHA or CCHA counterparts.
As shown by the Gopher Hockey’s official twitter page, Minnesota Gopher coach Don Lucia had these statements to say:
- “We are excited about the possibility of a Big Ten hockey conference beginning with the 2013-14 season.”
- “Our rivalry with Wisconsin is well documented and it will be nice to play Michigan and Michigan State more than once a year.”
- “It will also be exciting to create new rivalries with Ohio State and Penn State.”
- “Right now we enjoy playing in the WCHA and will work with the league and WCHA schools to maintain established and traditional rivalries to ensure a competitive and entertaining non-conference schedule.”
Those rivalries that Lucia alluded to consist of their bitter rivalry with neighboring North Dakota, along with instate rivalries with the likes of St. Cloud State, Bemidji State, Minnesota State-Mankato, and the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
As a Gopher hockey fan, I am initially weary of the new Big Ten hockey conference.
The WCHA Final Five—which is hosted yearly at the Xcel Energy in St. Paul—is great for the economy of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. Without the Gophers or the Badgers, attendance is presumed to be down, and thus resulting in a loss of money for the many businesses that rely on this additional March income.
For the six new teams, this will be a great move.
The exposure from the Big Ten Network, and the added economic benefits that will come as a result of affiliating with the Big Ten for hockey, will be a great addition for all aspects of the programs involved.
There is one step in the process before the six team hockey conference is finalized, and it’s a rather small obstacle at that. The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors has to approve the establishment of men’s hockey as an offical sport in June.
Still three seasons away, this expansion will give Gopher fans something to talk about this off-season that doesn’t have to do with their team missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.
Brett is a contributor to The Sports Bank as beat writer for Minnesota Gopher hockey and the Minnesota Timberwolves. He is also the co-host of “The Backdoor Cut,” a Minneapolis based sports radio show.
You can follow Brett on Twitter @brettcloutier