New Big Ten league promises much — will it deliver?
By Charles Hallman
College sports in recent years have seen conferences either expand or implode both in football and basketball. Now it’s trickled down to men’s hockey.
In what organizers called “an unprecedented day of college hockey discussions in the Twin Cities,” last week the two newest men’s hockey conferences held their respective media days September 19.
“We’re ready to go in a new season and a new conference,” proclaimed U-M Coach Don Lucia in St. Paul — the Gophers and Wisconsin left the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and joined Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, who left the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA), and former independent Penn State to form the inaugural Big Ten men’s hockey league. “The CCHA had a nice run and all the schools found a home [elsewhere],” added Michigan State’s Tom Anastos of their former conference.
Former WCHA members Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, Nebraska-Omaha, North Dakota and St. Cloud State are now part of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) with Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan, formerly of the CCHA.
“I think it would be foolish for me or anyone to try to guess what difference [the new league] might be,” noted SCSU Coach Bob Motzko in Minneapolis.
The two conferences do have some similarities. Both will have network telecast commitments locked in — 18 NCHC games, plus the tournament semifinals and finals will be on
the NBC Sports Network. The Big Ten will have over 70 televised games with at least 34 contests on BTN, ESPNU and ESPNEWS.
“It’s not a short-term investment,” said Mark Silverman,who added that he hopes that in three-to-five years the league will “get to the ratings we need to sell the
advertising we need to make this financially successful for us.”
“We are excited in creating what we hope to be the best conference in college hockey,” declared NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton during his “State of the Conference” address.
Big Ten Associate Commissioner Jennifer Heppel explained, “I have not worked directly with college hockey, but I’ve been around college hockey for 20-plus years. It is interesting to look around the room and realize you are the only woman, but I’m the only person who notices that.”
Not exactly — the only Black reporter at either league’s media day noticed and duly asked Heppel about diversity. “We have an office of about 40 people who are now involved in hockey,” she told the MSR, but she wasn’t able to name a single Black person among them. “We have a fair number of women in the office. I think it’s a diverse office.”
“At this time we don’t have anybody of color who works in our office [in Colorado Springs, Colo.],” admitted Fenton as he counted himself and five others — all are White. “If we have the opportunity to enhance the diversity in our office by hiring a person of color, we are wanting to do that.”
Conversely, as was the case last week during media day, chances are finding any Blacks on the rosters of the combined 14 teams this season won’t be very good.
“I think part of it is that there is not enough [Blacks] playing it where younger players can emulate it,” surmised Lucia. “I think one of the things that is hurting hockey, and this is across racial lines, is the expense of the sport: $150-$200 sticks, $70-$80 pair of skates — the cost of ice [time] now is $150-200 an hour just to go practice. If you have two or three kids, you have to make some decisions on what sport you are going to gravitate to.”
To read more of last week’s historic college hockey media day in the Twin Cities, go to “Sports Odds and Ends” .
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