Right now, there are 58 teams in Division I, and there is little room for additions within the current structure of conferences. The most recent league to try to build itself with Division I newcomers -- College Hockey America -- folded after this past season, leaving just five leagues and one independent team.
We may soon be marking an addition to the field, and a significant change in the sport's structure. According to Inside College Hockey, Penn State is set to announce a decision to add men's and women's varsity ice hockey.
The school could make the announcement as soon as Friday, and INCH -- citing anonymous sources -- reports it could bring along quite the tremor to the sport in terms of how its conferences look.
While any new blood is a good thing for hockey, those who govern the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and Western Collegiate Hockey Association probably aren't happy about it.
While a university with the name recognition of Penn State adding a varsity program can only help the profile of college hockey, the impact on current conference configurations, especially the CCHA and WCHA, could be significant. Penn State would join Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State and Wisconsin as the sixth Big Ten Conference institution to sponsor varsity hockey. That's the minimum number of schools required by the NCAA for a conference to award an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and the Big Ten covets hockey for its wildly successful television network.The CCHA would be the hardest hit, losing two of its highest-profile programs, along with one in Ohio State that should be a lot better than it has been.
Meanwhile the WCHA sure does lose big names, and Wisconsin has a national championship and a runner-up finish over the past five years, but losing Minnesota and Wisconsin is nothing more than a significant hit. Programs like North Dakota, Colorado College and Denver are consistently competitive nationally, and North Dakota has some of the best facilities in the country, along with a great reputation of turning top recruits into NHL players.
The CCHA would have Notre Dame as its highest-profile program, with the hope that Miami (Ohio) could help keep the league's profile high nationally.
This would also open the door for other schools to move into Division I should they desire. With what seems to be a realistic maximum of 12 teams in a league, the CCHA could potentially have room to add four more schools, while the WCHA -- which just recently expanded to 12 teams -- could take two.
It's also good news for Alabama-Huntsville, a program left homeless by College Hockey America's demise. UAH would suddenly have another opportunity to get into the CCHA -- its initial application was rejected -- or WCHA. It is playing the 2010-11 season as an independent.