The World's Greatest Sports Conference has taken another step in global collegiate athletic domination
by authorizing airstrikes against the SEC by announcing that they will begin conference play in hockey in the 2013-2014 season.
This move is not really unexpected, at least ever since Penn State announced they were going to start fielding a hockey team. Not unexpected, but still surprising, at least to me. With Penn State being the 6th team, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State will leave their current conferences to start the Big Ten Hockey Conference.
Why is it surprising? Follow along, after the jump.
First, the statement from the Big Ten:
Park Ridge, Ill. - The directors of athletics of Big Ten institutions which sponsor men's ice hockey unanimously announce their intention to recommend to the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors in June the establishment of men's ice hockey as an official conference sport for the 2013-14 academic year with participation by Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
The recommendation includes both the establishment of the inaugural Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in March of 2014, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, and a 20-game conference schedule with each team playing the other five schools four times (two home games and two away games). In addition, the Big Ten's men's ice hockey programs will continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference competition with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
In September of 2010, Penn State announced the establishment of men's and women's ice hockey programs set to begin competition in the 2012-13 academic year, giving the Big Ten six institutions sponsoring men's ice hockey. Big Ten rules allow for a conference championship when six institutions sponsor a program in any given sport.
Since Penn State's announcement, the conference has researched and investigated the establishment of men's ice hockey as a conference sport. The conference has sought input and communicated both internally with conference chancellors, presidents, administrators and coaches, and externally with members of the hockey community, including the CCHA and WCHA.
With the addition of Nebraska on July 1, 2011, the broad-based athletic programs of the 12 Big Ten institutions will sponsor 298 teams with more than 9,500 men and women student-athletes competing for Big Ten Championships. The conference currently features 25 official conference sports, 12 for men and 13 for women. The last official conference sport established by the Big Ten was women's rowing in the 1999-2000 academic year.
This move really affects three conferences--The Big Ten, the WCHA, and the CCHA. The WCHA is a twelve team conference that includes Minnesota and Wisconsin, and stretches as far west as Alaska. Although Minnesota-Wisconsin is a big hockey rivalry, for the Gophers it takes a back seat to their rivalries with North Dakota, and to a lesser extent Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State. One of the signature events in college hockey is the WCHA FInal Five, which like college basketball, is played at the conclusion of the regular season and a winner gets a spot in the NCAA Hockey Tournament. The WCHA Frozen Five is held at Excel Energy Center in St Paul on a regular basis, and not having the Gophers and Badgers in the WCHA could result in the tournament moving from the Excel.
The CCHA contains the rest of the Big Ten hockey teams, and much like the Badgers and Gophers, they'll be sacrificing some long established rivalries when the Big Ten forms their own conference. The CCHA also has their post season qualification tournament at the end of the season, and whereas the WCHA is only losing two teams, the CCHA will lose three, and the number of teams in the conference will drop to 8.
I'm not smart enough to read the tea leaves to figure out what will happen with the WCHA and CCHA, but how will the Big Ten fare as a six team conference? They'll be fine, and I can see the addition of other teams in the coming years as the conference looks to further expand their hocky footprint and take on the WCHA and CCHA.
In Michigan (9 national titles), Minnesota (5), and Wisconsin (6), the Big Ten will own three of the six historically best collegiate hockey programs in history (North Dakota, Denver, and Boston University are the others IMO). Michigan State is no slouch either, winning three national titles all time, which is tied for eighth.
Six teams won't require a division split, and an end of season tournament will give the top two teams a first round bye into essentially the semi-final games, with an easy way to expand as more teams join the conference.
I'm an old WCHA fan, so I'm sorry to see the end of an era, but with only five other teams in the conference, it will be necessary for the Big Ten teams to still schedule WCHA/CCHA teams, so many of the rivalries that the current Big Ten teams have will be preserved.
Quite frankly, I'm excited to see the Big Ten take this step.