College hockey (or #cawlidgehawkey as John Buccigross calls it) isn't something we often discuss here, for the obvious reason that Indiana doesn't have a Division 1 varsity program. But yesterday, a development in the sport appeared that caught our attention.
Notre Dame is joining the relatively nascent Big Ten hockey conference, starting in the 2017-18 season.
Here's the press release:
Big Ten release for Notre Dame hockey joining the conference. pic.twitter.com/3o5bmJpsU5— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) March 23, 2016
So what does this mean for Notre Dame and the Big Ten for other sports? Well, probably not much of anything for now.
Big Ten Hockey is a relatively new conference that contains only six of the conference's 14 full members (Penn State, OSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota). The conference only came into being when Buffalo Bills owner and Penn State alum Terry Pegula funded a sparkling new rink for his alma mater, bringing the number of B1G schools with hockey programs up to six.
For a couple years now, the conference has been humming along with six members, but now - and big shocker here - Delany wants to expand. And Notre Dame, which has been in Hockey East for a few years now, makes for a good candidate. If college hockey had an SEC football equivalent, it would be Hockey East. Based mainly in New England, it's very provincial and very successful - last year's champion Providence College is one of the members. And Notre Dame didn't entirely fit. And for other non-football sports, the Irish compete in the ACC. So the B1G fills that void for a hockey conference for Notre Dame, since the commutes will be shorter.
So while this move breaks a long and strange detente between the B1G and Notre Dame, I wouldn't expect much more to happen between the two sides any time. Since Notre Dame's giagantic TV contract with NBC is set through 2025 ($15 million per year just for seven home games per season!), the Irish don't have a financial incentive to be sharing revenue with any of the Power 5 conferences in football. And considering how other Big 12 teams feel about the Longhorn Network, other conferences may not be happy to negotiate with a school that has its own TV deal - even one with the brand name and history of Notre Dame.
The only way I could see full membership of a football conference in the Irish's future would be if they got overlooked for a Playoff spot one year in favor of a team that won its conference title game. And even if they did go that route, they are already in a very good basketball conference in the ACC, so if anything, they'd probably join up with them. Especially since Notre Dame now plays up to 5 ACC opponents a year in football.
Surely the Big Ten would like more hockey schools to join. What about Indiana? Will they ever have an ice hockey program?
Right now, there's no rink in Bloomington that would accommodate a Division 1-level varsity hockey team. And unlike other basketball arenas, Assembly Hall isn't exactly the shape for hockey either. In addition, the university seems content with its current lineup of 24 sports, and IU is more interested in promoting its current lineup, rather than trying to add on something new. This became evident a couple weeks ago, when the school announced upgrades to Memorial Stadium as well as a new facility for volleyball and wrestling. Assembly Hall is going through renovations right now that are set to open in the fall. Plus, hockey and basketball seasons overlap, and while there are plenty of hockey fans in Indiana, most of the state's attention is on hoops during this time. So while hockey could be a fun addition for Indiana (think of the awesome marketing potential for hockey sweaters!), I don't see it happening anytime soon.
Unless a wealthy donor pledges the full cost for building an on-campus rink, that is.