Illinois Considers Adding D1 Hockey

Interesting news out of the Land of Lincoln yesterday, where the University of Illinois released the results of a study into the feasibility of launching a Division I men’s ice hockey program. The feasibility study results state:

[T]here is growing excitement and anticipation about the University of Illinois starting Division I intercollegiate ice hockey. With a growing passion for ice hockey at all levels in the state of Illinois, the foundation appears to be in place for the University of Illinois to develop an intercollegiate men’s hockey program that will be financially successful and competitive on a conference and national level.

The University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics said yesterday that no final decision had been made yet on whether or not to add a varsity men’s hockey program. If it were to launch a varsity men’s hockey program, the University of Illinois would become the tenth Power Five school to sponsor the sport, and the third to add it since 2012.

Penn State, which launched its program in 2012, has shown that success on the ice can come sooner rather than later. The Nittany Lions men’s hockey team showed improvement in each of its first four years and made the NCAA tournament for the first time in year four. This year the program is in good position to get back to the tournament again in year five. Progress for Arizona State, which launched its program in 2015, has been a little slower but that could change if/when they find a hockey conference to call home. Life as an independent can be tough for everyone other than Notre Dame football.

The University of Illinois wouldn’t have to worry about life as an independent, though, as they would be able to slide into the Big Ten hockey conference when they’re ready. As Penn State has already shown in that conference, being a newcomer to the sport doesn’t mean being a cellar dweller for years and years. And the University of Illinois could very well have a good amount of talent on its team in a short amount of time.

It was pointed out in the study results that Illinois produced 85 Division I hockey players in 2017. Only Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts produced more. Of the eight states that produced the most Division I hockey players, Illinois is the only one without a Division I program. Illinois is also home to an Original Six NHL franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks, so the interest in hockey is there.

If college hockey operated like professional hockey, investors, city leaders and fans would all be demanding the next “expansion” franchise be placed in Champaign. College hockey in Illinois just makes too much sense. There’s no way that program wouldn’t be successful. Adding a Big Ten team in the third largest media market in the country can only mean more exposure for the sport, and there’s nothing to not like about that.

Unless you’re a New England fan. Just one more midwest powerhouse for BU, BC and Maine to compete against for talent.

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