By Jessi Pierce
***Editor's note: I am admitting my homer status as a Minnesota fan upfront to kick things off in this post, based entirely on my personal opinions.
Little more than a year ago, I echoed the sentiments of that weary Minnesota fan in the above video.
I'll be honest, I despised the idea of a Big Ten hockey conference from the first moment I had heard about it. A loyal WCHAer, I was fuming over the thought of losing the passion in the rivalries that the Gophers had established in the course of 61 years in the WCHA and the idea of losing some phenomenal conference competition. Just all around unhappy, not unlike many of the fans out there that I have spoken to and heard from.
Now for the cooling down process.
Once I set my own personal gripes with the conference aside, I began to think on a broader level of what exactly this meant for college hockey as a whole. On that basis, I see the impact of a Big Ten hockey conference having amazing potential to truly help the sport that fans love.
As I mentioned in one of my first posts on this blog, with a Big Ten hockey conference comes the synonymous Big Ten name and like it or not, it's more widely known than the Western Collegiate Hockey Association or Central Collegiate Hockey Association to people outside of the hockey realm. What a great way to expand and invite Big Ten — especially Penn State — fans to the game of hockey.
With the Big Ten name also comes the big bucks. With the financial backing of the Big Ten and Big Ten Network, it's golden for every single one of these programs. The Big Ten Network will guarantee fantastic media coverage throughout the entire season. Admit it, that's exciting stuff.
The biggest argument that goes against the Big Ten would be in the loss of rivalries, a legit concern that as you read even I had, especially when you consider the tickets sales for those games are great for both the bigger schools and the smaller ones alike when that competition comes around each season. It was announced a few months ago by Gopher Head Coach Don Lucia that a deal has been worked out that will include all Minnesota teams (St. Cloud, Duluth, Mankato and Bemidji) guaranteed match-ups with the Gophers throughout the season as well as the famed North Dakota rivalry. I imagine similar schedules will be worked out for the other schools that have set their own rivalry traditions because with only six teams playing two series' a season, there is plenty of room for outside competition.
That of course begs the argument that, "it won't be the same when we play those teams," but won't it? It will still be about the bragging rights and will still effect the record on the season as a whole, so why treat those games as though it's not as important now that it's non-conference. As a Cyclone, I know first hand how much Iowa State still loves to beat Iowa despite being in two different conferences and it is still considered one of the biggest games of the season. I see no reason why non-conference games that hold the same intense rivalry for the hockey teams will be treated any differently.
Another interesting point to note is that the Gophers are one of the founding members of the now dominant WCHA. What better team to be one of the stronger building blocks of the Big Ten hockey conference? Add in storied programs Wisconsin, Michigan and Michigan State and a solid base is laid for what is going to be a very promising program. And of course none of this is to discredit Penn State or Ohio State, both schools are equally as well known for athletics on a national level and with the addition of another sport, especially against some of the best competition in college hockey in the aforementioned schools, it's a win for them, too.
But love it or hate it, with the 2013-14 season comes the Big Ten and really the fans can help make it or break it. Why not try to shine some of the positives and see what in fact it could bring. It's not the first conference realignment and it's sure to not be the last and I am excited to see what might happen.