In a Sunday morning interview with WCCO-830 AM radio in Minneapolis, Minnesota hockey head coach Don Lucia discussed the viability of Husker Hockey transitioning from a club sport to a division 1 sport in the Big Ten conference.
You know what, there's been some talk [about Nebraska adding hockey]. Personally, I think it'd be a natural. I think that when you look at how well the junior team has done there (they draw over 4,000 fans a game) I think its a sport that they could add to make money on. And that's gonna be the big thing with hockey, you're gonna have to add a women's sport and a men's sport...but that's an area I think that they have the facility that they could draw. I mean, look what they draw for their women's volleyball team and football and basketball and everything else -- they have very passionate fans there. I think it'd be a natural, and they are within the footprint of junior hockey down there, and I think they could really make it a go...
Husker hockey has been rumored and discussed for years. Back in 2006, I thought there were two hurdles that needed to be cleared before Nebraska could add a hockey program: a facility and Title IX. Fast forward to today, and there seem to be solutions to both hurdles...but does that make a hockey program likely in Lincoln?Offhand, I think that it's more possible than before, but still not not likely. The new Pinnacle Bank Arena in the Haymarket is going to be capable of hockey, and the 12,700 expected capacity for hockey would be more than adequate for division 1 hockey. Men's hockey will become a Big Ten sanctioned sport in 2013 when Penn State joins Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Ever since the Big Ten decided to make their hockey programs B1G, people have speculated about other schools adding hockey.
Lincoln's support of the Stars in the United States Hockey League (averaging 4,000 fans a game at the "Ice Box", a converted building near the Devaney Center on the former State Fair Park) certainly leads credence to the idea that hockey could work at Nebraska. Likewise, the success Nebraska-Omaha has had in hockey (averaging almost 8,000 fans a game last season) shows that hockey can be a big success in this area, even though hockey is not a traditional Nebraska sport.
One problem with adding a men's sport is needing to add women's sports to ensure compliance with Title IX. Women's hockey could be the answer here, though it would be dependent on men's hockey generating enough revenue to keep both programs out of the red.
While fans have been interested in Husker hockey to various degrees, I get the sense that Nebraska's administration has never warmed up to the idea. Bill Byrne once said that hockey was UNO's niche. Steve Pederson never saw much of a future for the sport in Lincoln, and Tom Osborne hasn't shown any interest either. But now with hockey and Nebraska now both in the Big Ten, could Nebraska's interest be stoked? Since the plans to consolidate the Big Ten's hockey teams to play a Big Ten schedule were announced, BTN has begun televising hockey games much more often than in the past. Does the Big Ten see a growth market for hockey, and could Jim Delaney be encouraging Nebraska to start hockey programs?
Or is all this talk simply Don Lucia looking for a patsy to pad his schedule out, now that the Gophers will have to play four other national powers four times each every season?
What do you think about the prospects of Husker hockey? Is it a "meh" or is it a "yeah!"