We still don’t have a start date for the 2020-2021 college hockey season, but a couple pieces of news this week suggest that we continue to move closer and closer to beginning to talk about the start of the season.
First, the Big Ten conference announced that they would return to play football this fall after approving a rigorous testing system. As has been mentioned previously here, the big key was the availability of cheaper, faster testing capability, which the Big Ten finally felt they had in sufficient numbers. The league’s press conference said fall sports and winter sports that begin in the fall, including hockey, would be announced shortly. So while there is no clear answer for what it means for the Big Ten hockey season, it is another step forward, because if the Big Ten couldn’t get their billion dollar industry on the field, they probably weren’t playing hockey either.
It does create a potential hurdle in hockey in regards to playing teams outside of the conference. The Big Ten’s testing plan is rigorous, which means it is going to be expensive, and could potentially be tough for smaller schools to match. Obviously men’s hockey has their own standalone conference, though I’m sure those schools would love to limit their travel by playing more local teams—for some schools, that was the case before the pandemic—but it really creates an issue in the women’s WCHA, which has three Big Ten teams that play alongside four Division II schools in their conference.
Todd Milewski reached out to WCHA women’s commissioner Jennifer Flowers and got an I dunno yet:
WCHA women's commissioner Jennifer Flowers says in a text: "We are working to establish WCHA protocols that are agreeable for all of our institutions."— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) September 16, 2020
This could be a sticking point for some single-sport conferences. https://t.co/zyRCbt7FMA
Add that to the long list of details that will still need to be worked out before teams are playing games again.
Meanwhile, one of the various levels of NCAA Bureaucratic Hell officially approved a November 25 start date for the college basketball season. Again, as we’ve mentioned before, the push to start the college basketball season in late-November played a big role in college hockey pushing up their plans to start the season from January 1st.
To be clear, these decision simply provide a framework for possibly starting the season, and don’t necessarily guarantee things will start on specific date and run as normal. There are still hundreds of details that will need to be worked out. The added costs to athletic departments will be enormous, and they likley won’t be able to take in as much revenue due to no ticket sales. Not to much potential health concerns. In recent weeks, the entire Alaska-Fairbanks team was forced to quarantine due to positive tests within the team—though again, with rapid testing availability, the number of players that would have had to sit out would have been much more limited—and Penn State athletics has had to shut down multiple teams after reporting 50 positive tests within their athletic department.
So, again, even if the season can start, it is going to look much, much different than a normal season.
Meanwhile, mixed news came today on the international hockey front from the IIHF. They announced that the 2021 World Juniors would take place this year inside a bubble in Edmonton. Unfortunately, the women’s 2021 U18 tournament, scheduled to be in Sweden this year, will be canceled.
From the US perspective, it isn’t the worst news. The men will get a chance to redeem themselves from last year’s underwhelming tournament with what is considered one of their better teams in recent years. The women were set to defend their gold medal—their OT win over Canada in the gold medal game feels like a lifetime ago—but were due to have one of their weaker teams in recent history heading into this year’s tournament. Still, it’s a shame to see one of the best hockey events in the world canceled.