Whether it's the added excitement and exposure of the Frozen Four or something else, this seems to be the time of year when schools talk about potentially creating new Division I hockey programs. Two programs in the past week have at least expressed interest in the idea.
The first is Minot State. The Beavers are members of the Division II Northern Sun Conference with the likes of fellow D-1 hockey schools Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State. They currently have a club hockey program that competes in the ACHA Division I level where they were formerly rivals of Arizona State.
The interest, led by program head coach Wade Regier, would seem to be there. Minot State athletic director Rick Hedberg sums up the situation, and life in general, with the following quote:
"If finances weren’t a part of it, it’s a no-brainer," MSU athletic director Rick Hedberg said.
The whole article is worth a read as it delves deep into the finances that would be necessary to make the whole thing go. Regier estimates the team has between five and 10 million dollars in pledged donations so far, well short of the roughly $30 million needed to endow scholarships and give the program a solid foundation to work with.
It's finding that second wave of money that often proves the most difficult, however. In the summer of 2011, Minnesota State Moorhead, also a member of the Northern Sun, announced that they had raised $15 million of the target goal of $37 million towards starting a hockey program. The announcement was meant to stir further donations, but the Dragons never raised much more than that initial $15 million and the project was eventually scrapped.
Minot State has the additional hurdle of working out their arena situation. They currently play at Maysa Arena, also home of the NAHL's Minot Minotauros. The arena seats about 1500 people and would likely need some major renovations to become Division caliber. The arena is currently a semifinalist for the Kraft Hockeyville contest, which will bring in some money, but whether Minot State renovates Maysa or builds new, they're likely looking additional millions of dollars needed to start the project.
Sidenote on arenas, this was amazing to me:
I would save the victory lap until Arizona State isn't playing in a high school rink, but that's just me.
In all, it's a nice idea, but hard to see this working. Add Minot State to the list of schools that would maybe like Division I hockey, but aren't going to get there due to the extremely high barrier to entry.
More likely, in my opinion, is Vancouver university Simon Fraser University. The Clan officially became members of the NCAA at the Division II level in 2011-2012. When they made the move, starting a Division I hockey team wasn't much of a priority, so much as being stable in the NCAA. But now, with a new athletic director at the helm, Simon Fraser could be more interested in making the jump.
The school is still in the process of putting together a plan. That plan will likely come back with the $30+ million price tag to endow scholarships and start the program, and where that money might come from is unknown.
It wouldn't be easy to get that money, but it's easy to see a path to success for the Clan if they moved to Division I in a hockey hotbed like Vancouver. Again, they're not playing in a Division I-caliber arena, but the article speculates about them moving to the Pacific Coliseum, current home of the WHL's Vancouver Giants.
Adding college hockey in the Canadian footprint would be a huge win for the sport in general. It's still a few years away from happening, if it happens at all, but hopefully this is one that gets done.