Yesterday's announcement that Arizona State would be transitioning to Division I next year came as a shock to the college hockey world. But it could go down as a watershed moment in the history of college hockey.
If there was a key phrase from yesterday's press conference, it was Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson saying that it was his hope that Arizona State moving to Division I would "tip the dominoes" and cause other schools on the west coast to start their own programs. We talked a little bit yesterday about what current conference Arizona State might land in when they join a conference in two years. But ultimately, it's pretty clear that they didn't make this move to play in a conference with Miami or Lake Superior. They want to play in a Pac-12 hockey conference against other similar schools.
There have been many in the college hockey world, including some of very high position and influence, that have argued in favor of that "domino theory," saying that all that really needed to happen was for one major school to start a Division I program and many others would follow. That didn't happen with Penn State, largely because the Nittany Lions were a bit of a special circumstance. Arizona State is different though. Arizona State will be the school that puts that domino theory to the test.
I noted yesterday, how different Arizona State's move to D-I is, compared to Penn State. When compared to the Nittany Lions, Arizona State's expansion looks rushed and on the cheap, but maybe that isn't such a bad thing. If Arizona State's model actually works, that makes expansion much more attractive to future schools. It cuts the initial donation needed to start a new program to only a third of the $100 million Penn State received. It would also show that a team wouldn't necessarily need their own home arena to start a program. They could start at a temporary home and figure out the arena at a later date. Those have traditionally been the biggest barriers of entry to schools playing at the Division I level.
A lot of schools will be watching Arizona State closely, and if they see the Sun Devils have success while overcoming those barriers, it makes them much more likely to follow suit. Not many schools can afford to follow model set by Terry Pegula and Penn State. But suddenly, it doesn't look that difficult for schools to clear the bar that Arizona State has set.
There are still no guarantees hockey will be a success at Arizona State, but if it is, it opens up a whole world of possibilities for future expansion of the game.