As it stands, when Notre Dame leaves Hockey East for the Big Ten after next season the Big Ten will have seven teams, Hockey East will be left with 11, Atlantic Hockey will have 11 and Arizona State will still be sitting out there as an independent.
Anyone think that’s actually the way we’ll be seeing things when the 2017-18 season gets started?
Having an odd number of teams isn’t an impossible way of going about things — it’s happened quite a bit — but it’s certainly less than ideal. There’s never a night when all of your teams are playing conference games, which can make for some odd scenarios toward the end of the season.
So if Notre Dame’s move to the Big Ten is today’s equivalent of Penn State’s addition of a varsity program, buckle up, folks, because the conference arms race is back on.
You’ll probably remember that Penn State adding hockey formed the Big Ten, which depleted the WCHA and CCHA, which led Notre Dame to head to Hockey East and six schools to form the NCHC, where they were soon joined by two more. The CCHA packed up and everybody ran for their own corners.
It remains to be seen whether we’ll see as dramatic of a set of changes as we did at the start of the 2013-14 season, but it stands to reason that there’s more movement coming.
Here’s some off-the-cuff thoughts about what might be coming in the months and years ahead:
Don’t assume that Arizona State will be the Big Ten’s eighth team
Yes, Arizona State is looking for a conference and, as an institution, is of a size that would fit well with other Big Ten schools.
But sources have said that some in the Big Ten would prefer to have a more established college hockey program as a potential second affiliate member.
There are lingering questions about where Arizona State will play its home games in the long term — Oceanside Ice Arena seats just 747, but there have been reports of a potential partnership between the school and the Arizona Coyotes on a new arena in Tempe.
Arizona State probably is somewhere on the list for the Big Ten, but maybe not at the top.
And maybe we shouldn’t assume that the B1G will seek an eighth team
It’s entirely possible — and some in the Big Ten are pushing this — that the league will stand with seven for the time being and deal with the resulting imbalance issues.
Remember that the Big Ten had 11 schools for 20 years, so there’s some experience with the concept.
An NCHC team might fit in the Big Ten
But if the league does try to add one more team, would a school like Omaha or Denver or North Dakota fit better into the Big Ten’s future? Perhaps.
Now that the door has been opened for affiliate membership in the Big Ten, any number of schools could make a case for being a good fit. But NCHC schools might form the most likely group from which the Big Ten would pick.
From a fan standpoint, schools could stand to gain in attendance from resuming more regular series against teams their followers knew for years before the conference split.
North Dakota would be a coup for the Big Ten in terms of answering some of the loudest fan complaints and putting back together the league rivalries with Minnesota and Wisconsin, but we’re getting way ahead of ourselves here.
The Eastern leagues can expect some movement, too
If Hockey East wants to get back to 12 teams, it’ll surely have a few schools interested.
Within the league’s geographic footprint, Quinnipiac, Holy Cross and Bentley have been mentioned as among those that people could imagine in Hockey East.
An Atlantic Hockey school moving would give all of the Eastern leagues even numbers. If it’s Quinnipiac or another ECAC Hockey school, it could set off another set of dominoes, perhaps giving an Atlantic Hockey school like Rochester Institute of Technology an entry into the ECAC.
It’s too early to see how this will all shake out, but if you remember back to the summer of 2011, it seemed like things happened so quickly. Again, buckle up.