Sometimes the universe works in strange ways. For example, this weekend saw two of the biggest upsets in college hockey history when a pair of the Frozen Four’s top seeds were knocked off by the automatic bids from the two smaller conferences. Meanwhile, a program that dropped college hockey found glory in the Division II basketball championship.
The University of Findlay (Ohio) Oilers were the basketball team in question and hey, congratulations on your first national title.
But with Air Force beating Michigan and Bemidji State (Minn.) trouncing Notre Dame and Cornell in the Frozen Four tournament over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think of those players who suited up for the Oilers on the ice from 1999 to 2004, when Findlay was a member of College Hockey America (CHA), the dwindling conference that has also produced the Bemidji State Beavers. Those same Beavers are angling to join the powerhouse WCHA, leaving the CHA with just three members (Robert Morris, Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville). And based on the way the Beavers handled No. 1 Notre Dame and highly rated Cornell, it’s obvious the team knows how to compete with the big boys.
Findlay hockey died because of budget constraints, an all-too-familiar refrain these days, but a rough one when you read between the lines: the school would rather have a Division II basketball team than a Division I hockey team. In essence, they’d rather play Cal Poly Pomona on the hardwood than Notre Dame on the ice.
But hey – not my decision.
American college athletics are so exciting because of the atmospheres and because of the rivalries (think Wisconsin-Minnesota or Boston College-Boston U.). I’ve said this before, but it needs to be said again: More big schools are needed in NCAA hockey.
The talent is there. Powerhouses such as Wisconsin often over recruit and some players end up playing at Division III schools for a year until a roster spot opens up. And as we’ve seen with Air Force and Bemidji State, hockey is finding its Gonzagas and George Masons. The Falcons of Air Force, for example, were playing in their third straight Frozen Four tournament coming out of the Atlantic Hockey conference.
And whatever you think of Gary Bettman’s southern sojourn with the NHL, the place to look for new college programs is right there. Think Texas versus Oklahoma.
Thanks to the Dallas Stars, young Texan prospects such as Colin Jacobs and Cason Hohmann are ripping-up ice rinks across America and who’s to say there aren’t others coming along who would like to be the first great Longhorn or Sooner in hockey?
The biggest barriers for college hockey are money and Title IX, which states that female student athletes must have as many opportunities as their male counterparts. This becomes a problem when you field a football team composed of about 85 dudes.
But women’s hockey is much more established than women’s football and only requires about 20 scholarships. And big schools like Texas and Oklahoma have money (See: football TV contracts).
If you follow any college sport, you’ll know rivalries trump all. I don’t care if it’s badminton or fencing — if you’re from Texas you want to beat Oklahoma and vice versa. Too bad hockey is not an emotional, physical game where you can crush a rival…
The possibilities are endless. Penn State has been mulling a hockey program. And why not? They could stock their roster with players from the Pittsburgh Hornets midget program. Duke and North Carolina could bash each other around before Carolina Hurricanes games at the RBC Center. The Washington Capitals could hook up with the Georgetown Hoyas.
Hockey may be a bit foreign to the university heads, but the passion it brings is a no-brainer.
Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays and Wednesdays, his column – The Straight Edge – every Friday, and his features, The Hot List and Prep Watch appears Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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