Big Ten hockey needs expansion, Illini are my call from the bullpen
You can never have too much of a good thing.
In its second campaign, the Big Ten conference hasn't had the greatest year. According to the lates USCHO.com poll, Michigan is the only Big Ten team in the Top 20, sitting at No. 14. Penn State is next in line to hop into the rankings, and Minnesota isn't far behind, as both have received a decent amount of votes.
After a disappointing inaugural tournament attendance-wise at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., the conference is hoping for a little more success in Detroit for this year's tournament.
While the Big Ten is hoping for redemption, most likely in the form of Michigan come NCAA Tournament time, I'm hoping that a generous individual (or individuals) are hoping to play the same role that Terry Pegula once played.
The Big Ten Conference only has six teams. While I realize that they are essentially brand new thanks in part to Penn State, why wait to push expansion? The conference with the next fewest amount of teams is the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, totaling eight squads, potentially nine depending on where Arizona State lands. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association has 10 teams, the Atlantic holds 11, and both the Eastern College Hockey Conference and Hockey East have 12 members.
Using the "strength in numbers" theory, more teams equals more ground covered recruiting-wise. That equals better talent in the Big Ten, a very marketable conference I might add. Those of you willing to refute that theory can do so now, because I'm fully aware that five of the nation's top 10 teams are in the eight-team NCHC.
Still, adding another Big Ten team to the conference will only build up the competition odds. Thus, I make the case for Illinois.
I'm not the first to propose this option. In fact, we've highly pushed for the Illini to join the Division I ice numerous times on this blog. But one more vote and persuading article can't hurt.
Illinois is well established at the Division I American Collegiate Hockey Association level -- the same league that once housed Penn State. They have two national titles to their name and the students embrace hockey there. After sweeping No. 6 Oklahoma last weekend, the Illini have a 19-13 record and are No. 13 in the latest ACHA rankings.
While they would need a new arena for attendance purposes, they do have the "Big Pond." A 1,200 capacity arena with an ice sheet known for its massive size, the atmosphere there is intense and opposing teams have struggled entering Champaign. The "Big Pond" has helped Illinois boast a 16-5 home record this season.
If that doesn't sell you on making the Illini the next Big Ten team, consider this: they're the most ready.
Take a look at the last two teams to get the nod to play with the big boys; Arizona State and Penn State.
Arizona State is fresh off of a national title, going 38-2-0 in the process. As the ACHA's current No. 1 team, there's a good chance of the Sun Devils repeating this year.
Penn State has more national titles than any other ACHA program, harboring five. They were ready. The university was read. It shows. The Nittany Lions are already turning heads with how well they're doing in just their third year of NCAA DI action and their beautiful facility is electric every night with 6,014 fans screaming their heads off.
There isn't another "Big Ten" hockey team that is considered Division I in the ACHA. Indiana, Iowa, Maryland and Rutgers are all Division II teams, while Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue are ACHA Division III.
I'm going to keep an eye on Northwestern and Rutgers because I think they should follow Illinois, but that's a discussion that I'll save for another day.
As for today, I will leave my argument where it stands. Illinois is the most ready and most deserving of any Big Ten school that doesn't have NCAA hockey. The question that remains is, who will be the "Terry Pegula" to step up and off the type of money to start it?