The possibility of expansion for the Big Ten hockey is exciting to think about with so many high-profile member institutions. Some of the best athletic departments in the nation definitely have the ability to expand into hockey.It’s amazing to me that the same Big Ten admins that bitched and moaned to have a hockey conference also can’t get more schools to buy in for expansion. With all schools being located in the hockey-laden areas of the Midwest and Northeast, there’s simply no excuse why expansion shouldn’t be spoken into existence. Plus, 7 teams is an odd (hehe) number of teams to have in a conference.
At one time, Illinois was thought to be the favorite to become the eighth Big Ten hockey team. In May of last year, the Illinois Athletic Department quit their five year exploration of adding Division I Hockey. This is a bummer because no matter the sport, orange jerseys always play. I have no doubt that should Illinois ever find their way into D1 Hockey, their uniforms would be among the best. For a city that was once a point of pride in the hockey world, it’s CRIMINAL that Chicago has no representation in College Hockey. With Notre Dame and Wisconsin as the closest schools geographically, there would be an immediate audience with no competition for viewers.
IowaHawkeye Athletics have had no shortage for funding in recent history. Winter sports in Iowa City are also quite a competitive market, with outstanding Wrestling and Basketball programs. But, oh how quickly people forget that the Hawkeyes were 2021 Big Ten Champions in Field Hockey. The next logical step is to take things to the ice. Hell, the Iowa Wild might have the best atmosphere for a farm system team. Proof positive that the state has a thirst for the game. Not only that, but the Iowa Heartlanders already play IN Iowa City at Xtream arena. That place would immediately be above average compared to the other College Hockey barns. The Big Ten hockey needs more rivalries, plain and simple. Iowa can provide that with familiar foes like Minnesota and Wisconsin rivalries that already spill into multiple sports. Imagine how electric the ‘Who Hates Iowa?” chant would be at Mariucci!
Maryland hasn’t contributed much to the Big Ten since joining in 2014. The Terps are a prime suspect to be influenced by the Conference to get a hockey program going. College Park, MD is just under 12 miles away from the home rink of the Washington Capitals. Maryland’s strong ties to Under Armour has potential to bring some new looks to their uniform game. The only downside or potential hang-up here would be the possibility of Maryland making the jump only to play in one of the established Eastern hockey leagues. No chance they’d be accepted into the ECAC with the hyper-elite nerds, but Hockey East always seems to have openings.
NebraskaHockey has already proven its ability to perform in Nebraska with the rise of UNO. Outside of the Big Ten, getting another hockey team could kindle a nice non-conference rivalry with Nebraska-Omaha. Funding could be an obstacle in Lincoln with the overwhelming support for their football team. The University of Nebraska is definitely supported like a football school, but it certainly doesn’t quite play like one.
Most major schools in the Northeast have hockey programs, why should Rutgers get off the hook? Similar to the Terps, the Scarlet Knights haven’t added a whole lot to the conference aside from their proximity to New York. As with Maryland, Rutgers could easily be added to the eastern hockey conferences. Unlike the Terps, they may actually have a shot at joining the ECAC. The main reason? A Golden Knight vs Scarlet Knight jousting match at center ice.
These two teams aren’t TECHNICALLY in the Big Ten…yet. They would be by the time that their hockey programs could enter D1 play though! California is not exactly the first state that comes to mind when you’re talking about amateur hockey with all of the shine on basketball and football in the state. That being said, these schools already have two of the best and most established DII hockey programs in the nation as part of the Pac 8. They’ve got 10 championships since 1996 when the conference was established. With these two schools joining the Big 10, more funding than any other college hockey conference, an established TV deal and network to cover the games, and LITERAL coast-to-coast representation there are a lot of positives to them making the leap. Plus…have you SEEN the sweaters these schools have been pumping out?
Overall, expansion talk has been pretty quiet recently, but consider this speaking it into existence as we were robbed of many tried and true college rivalries when the Big Ten initially came into the fold. It would be amazing to add another sport too. The least they could do in return is bring us some new programs from these top athletic departments. That and maybe, just maybe, acknowledge it’s existence for more than 6 minutes a year on sports center.
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