The legitimacy of the account is in question without a blue checkmark and some questionable posts in the past, but this tweet is certainly getting plenty of attention in the college hockey universe. With the Chicago Blackhawks recently sponsoring studies for the University of Illinois to conduct gauging certain levels of interest and possibility of a Division 1 hockey program in Champaign, along with plans for a new facility to be built in the near future, and an incredibly progressive Athletic Director in Josh Whitman, it’s no wonder the murmurs on the street result in fingers being pointed directly at the Fighting Illini.
The Big Ten already claims seven programs to the conference, six being tradition schools, the seventh being Notre Dame. With the ACC housing every Irish sport except for football, but not having any other schools with hockey programs, the Big Ten allowed for Notre Dame’s entrance as an affiliate member.
Meanwhile in the ACHA, or the American Collegiate Hockey Association, Illinois has become a prime candidate for a promotion to the NCAA. 60 teams form Division 1 hockey. 59 teams shape the six conferences with Arizona State remaining independent. The B1G is the only Power 5 conference participating in NCAA Hockey.
Here’s the thing about college hockey…
While NCAA Hockey might be an afterthought for many and not get the attention it deserves, the league and sport are on the rise. Overshadowed by college basketball, the journey to the frozen four is incredibly captivating. Often overlooked is the regular season, and understandably so. The season began last month, but rarely receives recognition.
College hockey picks up steam in February, loses steam in March due to March Madness taking over and regains focus in mid-April, just in time for the Frozen Four. That’s just how it goes. And certainly, hockey has attracted plenty of attention in Illinois over the past decade, so the timing is perfect.
Strike While the Iron is Hot.
A bit of assistance and sponsorship from the Chicago Blackhawks surely couldn’t hurt either. Three Stanley Cups in six seasons, all coming within the last eight years, Blackhawks hockey remains relevant in city and throughout Illinois. Sure, Northwestern can claim to be “Chicago’s B1G Team”, but without an established credible club team in the ACHA, it’s difficult to give the Wildcats support.
Illinois presents the perfect option for the Blackhawks, NCAA Hockey and most importantly, the university. A fresh look at Athletic Director already showing his willingness to spend money, going all in on Lovie Smith (umm, we’ll save that for later) and Brad Underwood to turn around the athletic departments money makers is a big part of this.
Not to mention, Illinois youth programs have begun to flourish with the recent success in the city. And while prices for equipment have skyrocketed, opportunities have been made for those wanting to participate. Camps all around the state, once again… sponsored by the Blackhawks, seem to sprout in Illinois like corn.
Sure, the Illini haven’t had tremendous recent success in football and basketball, but it’s a recognizable Power 5 university. That fits exactly what D1 hockey needs. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin… now add Illinois.
Trust The Process
Posting the $25M entrance fee would just be the first official step of a long road ahead. But once that’s out of the way, things begin to progress a bit faster. Instead of rumblings, you can iron out a sure plan, begin recruitment and hire a staff. If the posting of the donation is announced relatively soon, their scheduled inaugural season is most likely 2020.
Eventually cost of facilities and conference revenue sharing will come to the forefront of the discussion, but we’re on a cross-that-bridge-when-we-get-to-it basis now. And as I just mentioned, the process really takes off once things become official.
In the meantime, while we wait for the announcement, just imagine how cool the Illini would look.
More like Oskee Wow Woah, am I right?
One last thing.
Follow Chad Collins and me for college hockey talk throughout the season right here at The U!