When Arizona State announced its intention to elevate its club hockey program to the NCAA Division I level, the sentiment around college hockey was mostly of joy and jubilation. The Sun Devils will be the 60th member school to compete at the Division I level and most view the expansion of the sport to be a good thing.
At first glance, it sure seems to be a good thing when your sport could gain more exposure nationally and at bigger schools such as Arizona State, a member of the power conference Pac-12 in all other sports. It also presents an intriguing potential for further expansion in non-traditional hockey markets such as Arizona.
However, college hockey has always been a niche sport in the colder regions of the country. It has thrived with smaller schools playing up and having success such as 2014 NCAA Champion Union College and Minnesota-Duluth in 2011. Little-known schools nationally such as Northern Michigan, Lake Superior, RPI and Bowling Green won national titles in the 80s and 90s. The current No. 1 team in the nation and winner of three national titles, Michigan Tech, is a small school located in the upper peninsula that certainly wouldn't even sniff such success in football or basketball.
When Penn State elevated its successful club program to the NCAA level a few years ago, we saw the dismantlement of the CCHA and the fraction of the WCHA into the Big Ten, NCHC and a revamped WCHA. Depending on which rumor you believe, the Sun Devils seem destined for the NCHC or WCHA, both could be argued as logical choices for the newest member of college hockey's fraternity.
None of this is a knock on Penn State or Arizona State. Both, rightfully so, are entitled to look out for their best interests. No school, big or large, is necessarily tasked with looking out for the interests of any other institution outside of their own. But, college hockey is a small fraternity and one that needs to keep all its members to ensure future success. The small schools with a rich hockey history have been vital to the sport. Going forward it is imperative that College Hockey Inc. and other powers that be in the sport maintain balance in expansion with keeping the glorious history of the sport alive.
Change is good, but the status quo in college hockey wasn't so bad. It was cool to see the little schools compete and thrive on a somewhat equal playing field. Hopefully the addition of Arizona State, and possibly other big schools in the future, won't kill off the little guys that brought college hockey so much excitement and mystique.
Be careful what you wish for college hockey fans.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.