Arizona State announced Tuesday that it would become the 60th NCAA Division-1 hockey program, by bumping up its National Champion ACHA team beginning next season.
And Arizona should do the same.
The main argument against this is the sheer cost of changing a club sport into an NCAA-sanctioned varsity sport. ASU needed to raised $32 million to make its move, and received the largest private donation in the history of the school to do it.
But Arizona's cost to move up would not nearly be as great as ASU's.
Arizona State does not currently have a venue that can host Division-1 hockey. Arizona does. And the Tucson Convention Center was just renovated prior to the start of this season, which makes it an even more viable option to host NCAA hockey. The Sun Devils will have to make some major changes to their current home, Oceanside Ice Arena, or, what seems more likely, move to a bigger venue.
Looks like Arizona St hockey will play at US Airways Arena in Downtown Phoenix— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) November 18, 2014
While no move for Arizona State has been announced as of yet, Sun Devil head coach Greg Powers said he wants to see the team eventually playing on campus. Which seems like that would mean a renovation of Wells Fargo Arena, to make the arena compatible for hockey.
This whole Tucson Street Car thing has almost made the TCC a part of Arizona's campus. It wasn't very far away to begin with, but now you can just jump on the street car, and a couple minutes later, you are at the front door of the TCC. And guess what? If there is an officially recognized University of Arizona hockey team playing there, you bet there would be deals to get students down to Church St. and support the team.
It would also become another off-campus facility that allows for alcohol service, something that Greg Byrne was obviously thinking about when baseball moved to Hi Corbett three years ago, and why Arizona State is moving their baseball program off-campus this year as well. The baseball move has worked out extremely well as far as a "non-revenue" sport all of the sudden bringing in some money to help offset some costs. You're telling me that Arizona Athletics wouldn't want a part of the possible income that comes with a bunch of home weekend games in the winter months where the Wildcats have the potential to draw nearly 7,000 fans per game? College Hockey Inc. also offers this graphic on the revenue schools generate from hockey.
Arizona would also need to strike on this while Arizona State is making the transition. The time-frame for the Sun Devils includes three one-year phases. Next season, the Devils will play a hybrid NCAA/ACHA schedule, then will play a full-time NCAA schedule in 2016, and then make the final move into a conference in 2017. Arizona will also lose those ASU games that tend to sell out Tucson Convention Center starting in 2016 if no move is made to join the NCAA.
The Wildcats would need to get in on this transition period, possibly starting one year later than ASU. And hopefully Arizona would joined by either one or two other Pac-12 teams, like Colorado, Utah or UCLA, or schools like San Diego State, Oklahoma, and Colorado State. The Pac-12 already came out today and said that they are fully behind Arizona State's move, and that they are looking forward to the possibility of hockey broadcasts being put on Pac-12 Networks. Hey look, more income opportunities for Arizona if it can provide more programming.
Arizona would also have enormous advantages in recruiting with regards to the rest of the NCAA D-1 hockey landscape. As an ACHA team, the program can not offer scholarships to entice players. ASU and Arizona have both been able to lure players that had NCAA offers to the Southwest because of location and competitiveness. Imagine what would happen to the program once it is allowed to offer scholarships? The talent level takes off, and why wouldn't top-notch players look at a place like Tucson and say 'Hey, I want to live there'. Every other school in the NCAA is in a cold-weather city. ASU will certainly see this impact right away, and Arizona could do the exact same thing.
On the other end of the recruiting thing, what if Arizona didn't make the jump to NCAA competition? All of the sudden, any decent player thinking about coming to Tucson could look at Arizona State and see that there are scholarships there for the taking, something Arizona wouldn't be able to offer. This could send the Arizona hockey program into a downward spiral talent-wise and interest level disappears among fans in Tucson, leading to the ultimate demise of the program.
One thing that was interesting that came up during ASU's press conference announcing the move is the growth of hockey in the Southwest. The Coyotes are starting to become a bigger draw, the Kings have won two of the last four Stanley Cups, and there's the possibility of the AHL putting a team in Prescott Valley next season. Hockey is here in the Southwest, like it or not.
The NCAA has to be looking for at least one other team to join Arizona State in this historic move, and Arizona is the most plausible candidate. Arizona needs to consider it. There's really no reason not to at least be thinking about it right now, and striking while the iron is hot.