Penn State Makes it Official: Varsity Programs on the Way

Penn State will start men’s and women’s varsity hockey programs and build an on-campus arena behind what the school’s president called an “unprecedented act of philanthropy.”

An $88 million gift from alumnus Terry Pegula and his wife Kim is launching the men’s program and the project to build an arena with a capacity of around 5,000-6,000 fans.

A drawing shows the location of the new arena at Penn State (photo: Penn State Athletics)

A drawing shows the location of the new arena at Penn State (photo: Penn State Athletics)

Penn State president Graham Spanier said at a news conference Friday in State College, Pa., that the Pegulas’ donation was the largest private gift in the university’s history.

The men’s and women’s programs will play in the school’s existing on-campus rink in the Greenberg Indoor Sports Complex when they debut as independents in the 2012-13 season. They also will play as independents in the existing rink, which can hold 1,350 fans when standing room is included, in the 2013-14 season.

The teams will join conferences and open the new arena in the 2014-15 season, athletic director Tim Curley said.

Curley did not disclose which conferences the teams would join, saying the school hasn’t had time to have those discussions.

He said he would work with the Big Ten Conference, of which Penn State is a member, and the college hockey community “to determine the appropriate conference affiliation.”

Penn State will be the sixth Big Ten school to have a men’s hockey team, reaching the threshold for inclusion as a conference if the schools band together.

A drawing shows the floor plan for the new Penn State arena (photo: Penn State Athletics).

A drawing shows the floor plan for the new Penn State arena (photo: Penn State Athletics).

Sources indicated earlier this week that a 2014-15 start date for a Big Ten hockey conference was being discussed, but a conference statement Friday said the formation of a league wouldn’t happen “without a significant amount of discussion both internally with conference chancellors, presidents, administrators and coaches, and externally with the hockey community as a whole.” (Read the full statement here.)

Said Curley: “Our goal here is to work with the hockey community and make sure that we continue to advance the sport. We have no intentions of hurting any conference or hurting college hockey.”

Curley indicated that the women’s team likely would join a conference based in the East.

‘A Great Thing You’re Doing for Hockey’

Terry Pegula is the founder and former CEO of East Resources, Inc., a natural gas exploration and development company. In July, he sold the company to Royal Dutch Shell for a reported $4.7 billion.

At Friday’s news conference, Pegula said being involved in his sons’ youth hockey experiences and seeing how it helped shape them was instrumental in the decision to donate the money.

He added that news of the impending announcement reached a Pittsburgh Penguins golf event he attended on Thursday. At that event, he said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby shook his hand and said, “Mr. Pegula, this is a great thing you’re doing for hockey.”

“We will now see through the hard work of the Penn State family that our passion will be shared with the families and communities of the region surrounding Penn State,” Pegula said in a statement. “We expect that Penn State will become a destination, not just for top college players and coaches, but also for the growing base of hockey fans from across the Commonwealth and the country.”

The donation will support the men’s hockey program via an endowment.

“Penn State will now be launching an ambitious campaign to ask other donors to join Terry and Kim in supporting this facility and the creation of other endowments to support the hockey and skating programs,” Rod Kirsch, Penn State’s senior vice president of development and alumni relations, said in a statement. “Our goal is to make this arena, and the vast array of activities to be held in it, the national model by which all other programs are measured.”

Plans revealed at the news conference show the arena holding two rinks. It’s situated near the Bryce Jordan Center, the on-campus basketball arena.

Exact seating numbers and a cost won’t be known until the school hires an architect, a move that is coming soon, Curley said.

The Penn State athletic department hopes the men’s hockey program can be a revenue generator.

“We fully anticipate this will be a tough ticket to get,” Curley said.

Stay with USCHO for more on this developing story.