On Monday, the Big Ten announced its intention to create a hockey conference that will begin play in 2013-14. This move was expected after speculation grew last week about a potential announcement, and the Big Ten made that announcement earlier this week.
The Big Ten hockey conference will include Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State. The schedule setup will include four games (two home and two away) against the other five teams in the conference. There will be a Big Ten hockey tournament played in March of each season, which will determine the conference's automatic bid for the NCAA hockey tournament.
Since only 20 games will be played as part of the conference schedule, teams will have a need to fill the rest of their schedule with more non-conference games. This is precisely why the Big Ten said in its press release that it will "proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference competition with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA)." While the CCHA and WCHA will be hurt by losing some of its biggest hockey programs, it's not like Michigan, MSU and OSU will never play teams like Notre Dame and Western Michigan again. The same goes for Wisconsin and Minnesota, which will undoubtedly work to maintain their rivalries with WCHA teams.
Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota will play in their current conferences for the next two seasons. For the 2013-14 season, they will all move to the Big Ten hockey conference. The sixth member, Penn State, will begin playing Division I college hockey in 2012-13 as an independent. In 2013-14, it will join the Big Ten hockey conference, giving it six members for its launch
As of right now, it does not appear that any other Big Ten teams have plans to add Division I hockey.
With Penn State set to have a varsity hockey program starting in 2012, there will be six total Big Ten teams playing Division I college hockey. Currently the only Big Ten teams with a Division I hockey program are Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Minnesota, which is why there is no Big Ten hockey conference. Conferences need at least six teams, so the Big Ten is one short right now. That will change in a few years, though.
Ever since it came out that Penn State was adding Division I hockey, there has been loads of speculation about a possible Big Ten hockey conference. It has especially picked up in the last couple weeks. Athletic directors were scheduled to talk about a Big Ten hockey conference in Indianapolis last week, and USCHO reports this:
WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said he has heard from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and representatives from Wisconsin and Penn State that the Big Ten will push forward with a plan to sponsor hockey beginning with the 2013–14 season.
If the Big Ten forms a hockey conference, it would take Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the CCHA and Minnesota and Wisconsin from the WCHA. (Penn State would join after being independent for a season.) This would change the hockey landscape, especially with the CCHA. Michigan and Michigan State are two of the biggest hockey programs in the CCHA. While Notre Dame and Miami have come on strong, it would be tough to recover from losing three schools, especially for the smaller programs.
Originally I was against the idea of a Big Ten hockey conference because I thought it would wreck college hockey at schools like Bowling Green and Western Michigan and so on. The more I think about, the more I am in favor of it, though. While it's true that the CCHA would be hurt by the loss of three schools, it's not like Michigan, MSU and OSU would never play CCHA teams. Since a Big Ten hockey conference would only have six games, there would be a need to schedule a lot of non-conference games. What's left of the CCHA could fill the void on the schedule, keeping rivalries and games against teams around the Midwest intact. It wouldn't be a great situation for the CCHA, but it's not like it would be the end of the world, either.