Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rutgers Hockey: Could It Be Reality?

By Jessi Pierce

Rutgers University put college sports on the map -- literally. The Scarlet Knights were one of the first universities in the U.S. to compete in intercollegiate athletics. Herolded as the "Birthplace of College Football," there's no doubt that Rutgers is a school with pride in sports. These days the Scarlet Knights are better known for their football and men's and women's basketball squads. While those sports are struggling to make a name for themselves in the Big Ten, the students, athletes and fans at Rutgers have another way to make a mark in their new conference home: add hockey.

Rutgers hockey? How feasible is that? With the current support of 2,674 and growing, I'd say it's not completely out of the question.

Rutgers men's hockey program, currently playing Division I in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, has taken things into their own hockey mitts. The club team has started an online petition, drawing the attention of plenty -- most of whom are more than willing to add their name to the list of supporters. As their petition states: "...the time has come for Rutgers to 'Go B1G' and make NCAA Division I Ice Hockey a reality."

One thing is for sure, if Rutgers became a DI hockey school, it would even the playing field for travel. As I mentioned in a previous post on the topic of expansion, Penn State is roughly 973 miles from the University of Minnesota, 711 from the University of Wisconsin and 388 from the University of Michigan. But the Nittany Lions have just a 227 mile ride to New Brunswick, N.J., home of the Scarlet Knights.

On top of making for easier travel, an east coast location has its benefits. In the 2014-15 season there were 52 Division I players from New Jersey, ranking No. 6 in the U.S. You also have New York and other surrounding states to cherry-pick from to grab some great talent. Having the availability of quality talent in your state and surrounding areas is a great way to further put your squad on the map. New Jersey Hockey would be thrilled to take pride in Rutgers (especially while the Devils are being...the Devils).

It's all about the money.

It's the biggest hindrance for any team looking to make the move-up. Not everyone has a Terry Pegula in their back pocket to drop a donation and a new arena.

And the squad would be in need of a new arena. Their current home at ProSkate Ice Center, while quaint and nice, would not be up to a typical NCAA Division I standards. They'd definitely need money invested into a new home, which as we all know is the big budget problem.

Let's pretend the money came through. Would Rutgers be able to build and see the profit in a reasonable amount of time? That will be the big question mark for the athletics department, alumni and boosters alike.

Title IX
Title IX, while viewed as a drawback, actually isn't the biggest hurdle for teams looking to move to DI. Rutgers currently has a Division I women's club team, so the interest is there on the women's side. If the men move up, the women do, too.

Their numbers appear to fluctuate each year, unfortunately a common trend for most women's teams not named Wisconsin or Minnesota. The upgraded division status just might help that.

So What Does It Mean?
After reviewing all of this, is Rutgers hockey the worst idea? Absolutely not. Seeing the enthusiasm and initiative from the team and it's fans is reason enough for me to actually consider it. It's exactly what we wanted to happen once Penn State joined the Big Ten -- we wanted the game to grow. With Arizona State joining the ranks, it starts to become a possibility for more and more schools to look at college hockey as an opportunity for their school.

People can argue night and day that the market isn't there for them. That it doesn't make sense for them to make a move up before other Big Ten programs like Northwestern or Illinois. I get that. I'm sure Rutgers gets that, too. Division I ice is not likely in their near future, but hey, at least thanks to their interest, they have a future. They got people talking and people considering the idea of it. If it gets pulled together I'd tune in and be eager to see what they can do.

*In case you didn't click on the link up top, go ahead and check out their petition. Add your name, too: Rutgers Hockey Petition