Big Ten confirms plan to sponsor hockey starting in 2013-14 season

The Big Ten Conference will recommend to its Council of Presidents/Chancellors that it establish a men’s hockey conference starting in the 2013-14 season, the league announced Monday.

The presidents and chancellors must approve sponsoring the sport, and they will get that recommendation forwarded to them in June.

The addition of a Penn State program for the 2012-13 season will bring the number of Big Ten teams with men’s hockey programs to six. Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave the WCHA, while Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State will leave the CCHA.

The Big Ten announcement, released via e-mail Monday, said the Big Ten schools “will continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference competition” with the CCHA and WCHA.

Big Ten teams will play 20 conference games — 10 home and 10 away — and will play their first conference postseason tournament in March 2014.

Penn State’s announcement in September that it will add men’s and women’s hockey led to speculation about the formation of a Big Ten men’s hockey conference.

“Since Penn State’s announcement, the conference has researched and investigated the establishment of men’s ice hockey as a conference sport,” the league said in a statement. “The conference has sought input and communicated both internally with conference chancellors, presidents, administrators and coaches, and externally with members of the hockey community, including the CCHA and WCHA.”

Said Terry Pegula, whose donation launched the Penn State program: “I am glad to see that the conference formation came together so quickly. One of the main reasons I decided to make the gift to Penn State was to see the great sport of college hockey evolve. Congratulations to the Big Ten Conference for making this leap of faith and I hope it can serve as a catalyst for the growth and exposure for the game of hockey in North America.”

CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said the announcement wasn’t a surprise.

“We have been engaged in discussing this topic with Big Ten officials for several months now,” he said in a news release. “We are studying the potential impact of this change and will continue to work closely with our membership and other stakeholders in college hockey to ensure the ongoing long-term success of our league.”

Said WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod in a statement: “Today’s announcement from the Big Ten conference has been anticipated for some time now, and this will obviously have an impact on the WCHA. But change creates opportunity, too. The timeline of this Association spans seven decades and has included expansion and contraction on numerous occasions, but the success of this organization has remained constant. The commitment to excellence by our member institutions will not waver and working together we will push forward to assure our future remains bright.”

Reaction from Big Ten schools was quick in arriving via prepared statements:

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi: “It’s worth celebrating that a BCS conference institution in Penn State has joined the great landscape of college hockey. We are also pleased that the Big Ten has embraced this move by recommending that men’s hockey be added as an official conference sport. At the same time there are some mixed emotions for us, as Minnesota is an original and proud member of the WCHA. We would depart with fond memories, and the sincere belief that many of the great WCHA rivalries that the Gophers have been a part of will continue through non-conference play.”

Ohio State associate athletic director for sport administration Chris Schneider: “This is an exciting time for college hockey and for Ohio State hockey. We have had a great relationship with the CCHA and the member institutions. We look forward to continuing those relationships while building stronger relationships with our fellow Big Ten hockey programs.”

Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki: “Adding hockey to the Big Ten Conference helps keep the sport moving in the right direction. Having even more games on the Big Ten Network will raise awareness both of Ohio State’s program and college hockey in the United States and Canada. It will make it even easier for our alumni to follow the team throughout the year. It is exciting both for our program, and for Ohio State fans, hockey is going to become a part of the great tradition of the Big Ten Conference.”

Minnesota coach Don Lucia: “We are excited about the possibility of a Big Ten hockey conference beginning with the 2013-14 season. Our rivalry with Wisconsin is well documented and it will be nice to play Michigan and Michigan State more than once a year. It will also be exciting to create new rivalries with Ohio State and Penn State. Right now we enjoy playing in the WCHA and will work with the league and WCHA schools to maintain established and traditional rivalries to ensure a competitive and entertaining non-conference schedule.”

Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis: “We are excited about the launch of hockey in the Big Ten Conference. I believe that sponsoring men’s ice hockey will enhance the Conference, its member institutions, and college hockey. Already, there is intense competition among the six programs on the ice, and this will quickly develop into one of the most exciting leagues in the nation. We’re looking forward to a schedule being filled with conference games against Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan, which will be great games for home venues and the Big Ten Network. Playing only 20 conference games will allow our programs to continue to play non-conference contests against in-state rivals, important tournaments like the Great Lakes Invitational, and a competitive national schedule.”

Michigan State president Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon: “If approved by the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors, this will be a welcome and exciting addition to Big Ten athletics. When one considers the locations of the Big Ten universities, competing athletically on the ice is a natural next step for the conference. A 20-game conference schedule and a season-ending tournament that will secure a spot in the NCAA tournament will be exciting for college hockey fans everywhere. Our relationship with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association has been beneficial both in terms of athletics and academics, and we are pleased that we will continue to face off against CCHA teams in non-conference competition.”

Penn State athletic director Tim Curley: “The Big Ten Conference represents competing at the highest level, regardless of sport. We always want to provide the very best experience for our student-athletes. As we transition to a Division I hockey program, we’re humbled to align with some of our Big Ten peers who, year after year, represent the nation’s elite in college hockey.”

Penn State associate athletic director for ice arena and hockey development Joe Battista: “I recently visited all the Big Ten hockey venues and the passion and enthusiasm among the Big Ten fans is the best in the country. We are really excited about the design plans we have for the Pegula Ice Arena and our goal is to make it the best atmosphere in the nation. We can’t wait to bring Big Ten hockey to Happy Valley!”

Also see: As Big Ten prepares to announce plan, CCHA, WCHA commissioners look forward