The league issued a press release to announce what's been suspected since the day Penn State announced they were starting up a hockey program and building a new arena to house it.
Here is the text of the Big Ten's announcement.
The directors of athletics of Big Ten institutions which sponsor men's ice hockey unanimously announce their intention to recommend to the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors in June the establishment of men's ice hockey as an official conference sport for the 2013-14 academic year with participation by Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
The recommendation includes both the establishment of the inaugural Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in March of 2014, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, and a 20-game conference schedule with each team playing the other five schools four times (two home games and two away games). In addition, the Big Ten's men's ice hockey programs will continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference competition with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).
In September of 2010, Penn State announced the establishment of men's and women's ice hockey programs set to begin competition in the 2012-13 academic year, giving the Big Ten six institutions sponsoring men's ice hockey. Big Ten rules allow for a conference championship when six institutions sponsor a program in any given sport.
Since Penn State's announcement, the conference has researched and investigated the establishment of men's ice hockey as a conference sport. 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.
With the addition of Nebraska on July 1, 2011, the broad-based athletic programs of the 12 Big Ten institutions will sponsor 298 teams with more than 9,500 men and women student-athletes competing for Big Ten Championships. The conference currently features 25 official conference sports, 12 for men and 13 for women. The last official conference sport established by the Big Ten was women's rowing in the 1999-2000 academic year.
Simultaneously, the University of Minnesota announced their intention to be a part of this venture.
The University of Minnesota and the five other Big Ten institutions which sponsor men's ice hockey announced today their intention to recommend to the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors in June the establishment of men's ice hockey as an official conference sport. Competitive play would begin in the 2013‐14 academic year, and in addition to Minnesota, the participating schools in the league would be Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
The recommendation includes both the establishment of the inaugural Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in March 2014, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, and a 20‐game conference schedule with each team playing the other five schools twice at home and twice on the road.
"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," Minnesota director of athletics Joel Maturi said. "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."
In addition, the Big Ten announced that participating schools will continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non‐conference competition with the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) and the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA).
"We are excited about the possibility of a Big Ten hockey conference beginning with the 2013-14 season," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "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."
In September 2010, Penn State announced the establishment of men's and women's ice hockey programs set to begin competition in the 2012‐13 academic year, giving the Big Ten six institutions sponsoring men's ice hockey. Big Ten rules allow for a conference championship when six institutions sponsor a program in any given sport.
Obviously, this announcement is expected to have an impact on the sport. Here are a few bullet thoughts, many of which I've probably covered either here or on the air before.
- Expect the departing WCHA teams -- Minnesota and Wisconsin -- to have a scheduling arrangement with the remaining WCHA teams, most notably North Dakota, St. Cloud State, UMD, Bemidji State, Minnesota State, and St. Cloud State. The teams that bolted from the CCHA -- Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State -- will probably have a similar arrangement with the league they left. There should be a high priority placed on having the teams play members of the conferences they are leaving. No one in Sault Ste. Marie is going to give a crap about Lake Superior State playing Minnesota, but they'll care if Michigan shows up on the schedule. As for Penn State, it makes sense to have them play WCHA teams to even up the non-conference arrangements.
- The development is going to hurt the CCHA more. Programs like Lake Superior State, Ferris State, and even Western Michigan and Bowling Green rely in part on the income they get from extra attendance when Michigan and Michigan State visit. Having Notre Dame in the league helps, but they're simply not as big a draw. Not only that, but there is simply no reason for the CCHA to ever again play its championship in Detroit. If you thought the crowd in St. Paul for the Bemidji State-UMD/UAA-Colorado College doubleheader Thursday was sparse, you should have seen what the Joe had for Notre Dame-Miami Friday afternoon. It was visually striking in that it would have been extremely embarrassing if 1) I was a big-time CCHA supporter, or 2) I hadn't seen it happen so many times before, no matter who played in that Friday afternoon game. The CCHA should look at moving to a smaller rink, perhaps the one Fort Wayne used to host a regional last year. The days of them selling 15,000 tickets for the league championship in Detroit are likely over.
- From a conference standpoint, the WCHA is still on solid ground, with new additions Nebraska-Omaha and Bemidji State both doing well this year. UNO is looking at a new building for their program, and Bemidji just opened one. They will lose income with Minnesota and Wisconsin leaving -- no doubt -- but North Dakota is a decent (sarcasm) program, and the league still sports college hockey's best coach (Dean Blais).
- The CCHA, meanwhile, is down to eight teams. Room for expansion, but they have to worry about further losses first. Will programs like Lake Superior State, Ferris State, and Bowling Green survive without having the Big Ten schools on their schedule? It's a question that will be answered in the coming couple of years. Will the CCHA reconsider adding Alabama-Huntsville? It's not a hideous trip for anyone in the league outside of Alaska and the Upper Michigan schools, but most of the trips in league play are tough on them.
- I mentioned room for expansion, but who will be the schools adding hockey? If Illinois or Nebraska add it, they will join the Big Ten. You've undoubtedly heard about Paul Kelly's dream of USC or UCLA, but those are logistical nightmares, even for the WCHA. Imagine being USC or UCLA, knowing you would need a facility, a coaching staff, players, and also to fly to every one of your road series because Colorado is the closest state housing Division I hockey programs. Tough sell, methinks.
- Will Alaska join the WCHA? The NCAA exemption rule indicates any WCHA team that went to Alaska twice would be allowed to play four extra non-conference games. The WCHA can't stand on the "You can't schedule an 11-team league" excuse anymore. It also puts the two Alaska schools in college hockey on a stronger footing, and in a league where they could play each other four times per season without any problems. Furthermore, it might open up more non-conference dates for everyone in the WCHA. That means more home games, something that could be attractive to potential newcomers. Just a thought.
- With the CCHA at a maximum of nine teams (assuming they pull the collective head out and take UAH), and the WCHA at a maximum of 11 (if they add UAF, something I admit is unlikely), there is room in those leagues for expansion. There is room in Hockey East for expansion. All is not lost in college hockey. Actually, this might be a good thing.