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Penn State Preps New Division 1 Hockey Arena; How Would Their Arrival Impact College Hockey?

The topic of NCAA Division I hockey expansion has been thrown back and forth in the college hockey community for quite some time, and generally, people agree that any expansion would be good for the future of the college game.

But some are against expansion and the potential realignment that it could cause, and the fear is that one or two big moves could have a ripple effect that could adversely impact off a collegiate hockey.

A giant move could be coming sooner rather than later. After many setbacks and years of speculation, it seems that Penn State University could be set to make the jump from club hockey to NCAA-sanctioned hockey, if not a jump all the way to Division 1 in one-fell swoop.

From the Altoona (PA) Mirror:

Rumors and speculation have existed for more than a decade, but it finally appears Penn State is on the verge of building a new ice hockey arena near the Bryce Jordan Center and adding Division I men's and women's hockey programs.

"We're close," a source close to the situation told the Mirror on Thursday. "It won't be long before we'll be able to potentially make some kind of announcement. But it's not a done deal yet."

The source spoke on the condition of anonymity, and when asked to define what "close" means said, "probably within the next two months" the wheels will be set in motion.

The first step is acquiring private funds to build a facility that would seat 6,000-8,000 people. The cost for that is expected to be between $60 million and $80 million.

Most, if not all, of that money would come from Penn State alum Terry Pegula.

As that article hints, the possibility of PSU adding a D1 hockey program is something that's been discussed for a very long time. Back in early 2009 a document surfaced that showed the school was looking into building such an arena, but as our own Western College Hockey Blog said at the time, that never came to fruition.

It's possible the economic collapse had something to do with that, and it's also possible that the report was referring to a study on the possibility of someday building that arena. Now, it seems, could be that day.

In an interview with SB Nation's From The Rink back in May, College Hockey Inc.'s Paul Kelly talked about the potential addition of Penn State to the collegiate hockey ranks and what kind of impact that move would have on the rest of the landscape.

They have been talking about the arena project and if you could ever get one other school from the Big Ten, you could create a Big Ten Hockey Conference.  We'd have to shuffle the deck a bit, and reconfigure the WCHA and CCHA a bit.  But again, this is a great sport that can be done effectively at some of these schools.  The programs can make an immediate impact in those areas and they'd have an immediate fan following.  We are a clearing house for colleges and universities that have an interest and want to talk to someone about what the process would involved, what the budget model would look like, who at the NCAA would be the right person to talk to, how do they get themselves aligned with a conference...we can be a good intermediary and have an impact.  We have already begun those discussions with a number of colleges.

Five Big Ten schools already have D1 hockey programs -- Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State. Minnesota and Wisconsin currently play in the WCHA while the other three play in the CCHA. There are a few problems with a potential Big Ten Hockey Conference:

- The WCHA, CCHA and the programs that call those conferences home would be on the losing end. If you take Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State out of the CCHA, you suddenly lose three of the league's most stable programs. Sure, Miami has become a force in the last several years and Notre Dame is on the rise, but can Northern Michigan and other small schools like it survive without the presence of the big-name schools?

- Rivalries will be broken up. Aside from smaller schools losing out financially with the loss of big-name programs, both large and small programs will suffer from the loss of rich rivalries. North Dakota will lose long-standing rivalries with Wisconsin and Minnesota, for example.

Western College Hockey Blog summed up these concerns back in February 2009, analyzing all the issues and concerns in a lengthy post on the subject. WCHB dismissed concerns of losing competitive balance, but came to the conclusion that the real problem lies within the small schools that would lose out with such a major shakeup.

The WCHA could survive with strong programs in North Dakota, Denver and Colorado College, but the CCHA would be a different story. WCHB believes that losing the Big Ten programs would be a death blow to the long-term success of the CCHA.

The Big Ten Hockey Conference might seem like a great idea to some, but I think right now, it probably would be a bad thing for college hockey. Maybe it will happen some day, but right now isn't the best time for it.  The sport of hockey isn't really popular enough for mid-major teams to be viable and successful without being able to be part of a conference with other major programs, and with the current economic situation, money is going to be hard to come by for programs that aren't able to turn a profit.

Penn State wants D1 hockey, it appears, and they wouldn't be looking seriously at building a 6,000-plus seat arena if they weren't going to get D1 hockey. Whether they play in a newly formed Big Ten Hockey Conference is yet to be seen as well, but if and when the Icers make the jump to D1, the impact on the rest of the college hockey world could be cataclysmic.

For more on Penn State athletics, including the Icers club hockey program, visit Black Shoe Diaries.