clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NHL sponsoring college hockey study, which could aid Syracuse Division I hopes

New, comments

The NHL wants to help colleges explore hockey for themselves.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NHL: NHL Draft
Will we ever hear a SU name called im the NHL draft?
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Remember me? The guy who used to pitch why Syracuse University should add baseball? Well I’m back talking about sports SU doesn’t have! At the NHL Draft, the NHL made an announcement that slipped through the cracks for some:

The University of Illinois has agreed to be the first school to be part of this NHL study, as they have been debating adding hockey for awhile and there has been precedent for Big Ten schools making a successful move up. The school will work with NHL representatives and determine if they can follow in similar school footsteps and start a D1 men’s hockey team.

For those playing catch-up: Penn State moved from club to D1 hockey thanks to a huge financial gift from the owner of the Buffalo Sabres in 2014. Since then, Penn State has aggressively built their program, making the NCAA Tournament in 2017.

Obviously, this is intriguing for Syracuse Orange fans that have been hankering for men’s D1 hockey, especially as the women’s D1 team has shown continued success. The Syracuse Crunch have shown that the area would rally behind a hockey team even without a state-of-the art arena. The Crunch, affiliated with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, made the Calder Cup Finals this past season.

Hell, ESPN’s John Buccigross had Syracuse near the top of his list for potential additions to the college hockey landscape.

But why is the NHL doing this?

NHL: NHL Draft David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The main reason is to grow the game. The number one way to grow interest in a sport is to get children ages seven or younger to play or attend games for that sport. In case you never participated yourself (or watched others play), the game is prohibitively expensive. That cost can be increased tenfold if there’s not enough ice time to go around, let alone the cost of ice for an arena with no other source of income besides people using the ice.

NHL teams have tried to combat this by giving out hockey equipment and building hockey rinks. But physical ice arenas are tough to come by, and a collegiate rink subsidized by a school with quality facilities would help ensure cheaper and more accessible hockey leagues for kids across the board.

The NHL is running into a problem baseball never really solved: what do we do when we’ve plateaued our growth, but other sports (soccer, basketball) seem to be growing by the day? Part of the solution is marketing the new young stars of the sport. MLB set the mold, but the NHL has a more entertaining sport to sell and a widely played video game that has proven the ability to grow youth interest in the sport. Heck, the NHL 18 release openly dropped eggs on the showboating, swaggering nature the youngins love.

So: combine all of that, plus the opportunity to cash in on ad dollars for live, high-level hockey (and yeah, the NHL would love for every major D1 college to offer hockey).

But of course, #content is always king. Big D1 hockey schools mean opportunities to show hockey on the newly revamped NHL Network, which currently relies on Top 10s and condensed NHL games for non-game nightly viewings. With schools now building out their own broadcast infrastructure, the NHLN could easily step in and showcase nightly college hockey before NHL highlight shows at 10 p.m. The live sports bubble may eventually pop, but no sports network will turn down free/cheap live sports you can throw on a Thursday night.

Ultimately, what would this study say if Syracuse were to take part? And would it say SU could support hockey? I don’t think this would yield much more than we already know. The city and school are a natural geographic fit, but the University needs serious funding to either build a new facility or renovate Tennity and compensate existing women’s programs in accordance with Title IX. And you can bet there’s no public funds coming anywhere near this to assist in the arena building until the Dome is handled.

But my pure speculation/this is how this stuff works thought: The study is used as a tool in conjunction the Crunch ownership to get a shared facility with SU men‘s and women’s hockey programs. Howard Dolgan is openly pleading (and threatening) for a new arena or upgrades to the War Memorial.

Now imagine the NHL coming in and saying the Crunch and SU should share a facility, paid for in part by the county, much like Pittsburgh does with the Steelers and Heinz Field. It would be viewed as a compromise (which sure, it might be for some on both sides) but ultimately is a win for both sides while getting public funds.

The NHL needs to grow hockey domestically. This past season, the NHL’s Stanley Cup Champions won with a roster stacked full of NCAA talent (in fact, the most ever). Colleges and the NHL aren’t new to the bushiness of finding new ways to angle for what they want. And as long as people keep mentioning Syracuse in the conversation (thanks again, Bucci!), it stands to reason that the momentum eventually leads to a DI team.

Full disclosure: the author spent several months working for MLB Advanced Media working on the NHL mobile application. In this time, he did work on a team that had communications with the NHL. Unless otherwise noted or sourced, all opinions are the author’s own and do reflect NHL/MLBAM strategies or buisness decisions unless expressly noted.