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The Penn State Issue

There's been rumors of a new college hockey team potentially joining the CCHA going around the last week or so, and I've been slow to comment, mainly because I thought, based on recent precedent, the CCHA had made it clear they had no use for a program with a 6000-seat arena, that is hundreds of miles away from the rest of the league, in an area that doesn't produce a lot of hockey players. But I guess a name makes quite a difference.

There have been rumors of Penn State considering a move to Division I hockey for years now, the most serious of which came last year when an architecture firm in Kansas prematurely sent out a press release bragging about designing a new PSU hockey arena. That eventually fell through, with rumors that people in the Penn State athletic department were very interested in starting hockey, but that the finances weren't quite right.

Those financial concerns seem to have been solved now that Penn State alum, and reported hockey fan, Terry Pegula, has sold his oil company to Shell for a reported $4.7 billion. There are rumors that a small chunk of that money will go towards a new arena for Penn State. This would seem to confirm most of the speculation about expansion in college hockey over this past summer, that there is a lot of interest from schools to add men's hockey, because it can be a revenue-generating sport, but that probably only generates enough revenue to support the building of a new arena, or support a women's hockey program, and both are necessary to start a new hockey program. With the new arena in place, Penn State would also start their own women's hockey program.

We're perhaps getting a bit ahead of ourselves by looking at this too deeply before anything official is done. But it's interesting how drastically the college hockey landscape has changed in the past 18 months since the first rumors of PSU building a new arena have come out. Nebraska-Omaha was quite adamantly a member of the CCHA at the time, and Bemidji State was still in limbo. Now, with the latest reshuffling, there is very little room to squeeze PSU in. Hockey East could potentially function with 11 teams, but that is problematic. Most seem to think it's a foregone conclusion that PSU would become the CCHA's 12th team, further screwing Alabama-Huntsville. That certainly seems to be the path of least resistance, though as I pointed out in the beginning of the post, PSU offers many of the same challenges that apparently made UAH impossible to work with.

The other game-changer since the last time Penn State was talked about is the growth of the Big Ten Network, and the Network's desire to have more Big Ten vs. Big Ten match-ups to fill weekend programming. The Big Ten has always taken a passive approach to college hockey, since they had nothing to gain from being actively involved, but now that there could be financial incentive--BTN sent money to all member schools last year--the conference may take a different stand. The Big Ten has already been rumored to have thrown their weight around in getting certain match-ups on their network, or keeping the three Big Ten schools together in the CCHAs 11-team cluster system, if not by threatening, then by gently reminding that they have the authority to pull the CCHA's biggest meal tickets out of the CCHA.

For what it's worth, I think my post last year on the possibility of a Big Ten Hockey Conference stands up pretty well a year and a half later, so there's not a lot of need to get into all of those issues again. Miami has two Frozen Four appearances since then, but I think most can agree people around the state of Michigan showing up to see their school play a Michigan or Michigan State has to do with those programs being on TV every fall Saturday, or throughout the winter during basketball season than the hockey success of those schools. Miami just isn't going to bring in fans like that.