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Could Rutgers be the next school to make jump from club hockey to NCAA?

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It's an uphill battle, but it could make sense for a lot of reasons.

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Penn State's addition to the world of NCAA hockey spawned the Big Ten's entrance to Division 1 as a hockey conference three years ago. But with just six hockey programs in the B1G -- the NCAA minimum for a standalone conference -- there's been a lot of talk about which schools in the conference could add teams.

Maryland? Northwestern? Illinois? Indiana? Nebraska? There are plenty of options, but all of them face the same issue: money. Ice rinks and hockey programs are very expensive. Penn State didn't make the jump from club hockey to Division 1 until Very Rich Alumnus Terry Pegula showed up and gave them more than $100 million.

In my mind, the best options for Division 1 hockey expansion are schools in places that are already-established hockey markets. Sure, you get schools like Arizona State that make the jump, and that's a great move for the overall growth of college hockey. But there are so many untapped markets in the college game, which has always stuck to its roots in New England, Upstate New York, the upper midwest, and the Rockies.

Maryland is just outside of DC. Northwestern is in Chicago. I've always thought that a school like Penn -- which had Division 1 hockey for decades until the program was cut in 1978 and would be a natural fit with fellow Ivies in the ECAC -- or Villanova or Temple could make sense in Philadelphia.

And then there's Rutgers University, firmly situated between two of the country's best hockey markets -- New York City and Philly. It's also the State University of New Jersey, a state that now ranks sixth in the union when it comes to developing NCAA Division 1 talent. Unless those kids are smart enough and wealthy enough to go to Princeton (which doesn't offer athletic scholarships), they must leave the state to play the sport at college's highest level.

So the Scarlet Knights jumping from a club program to a Division 1 program makes sense for a lot of reasons.

Given the sad state of Rutgers' overall athletic catalogue, it's not hard to imagine a world in which it's the most popular sport at the school behind football -- much like what's happened at Penn State, where hockey has quickly become a revenue leader. Money is definitely something Rutgers is concerned about after cutting six sports back in 2006, and the potential to add a hockey team that could boost the athletic department's bottom line does matter.

Another issue with adding a sport could be Title IX compliance, but that's typically not an issue with ice hockey because schools tend to simply add a women's hockey team at the same time.

So given all of this, alumni of Rutgers' club hockey program have started a petition to demonstrate the support a Division 1 team would have. They've picked up a little more than 1,900 signatures so far, with a goal of 2,500, in less than a week.

Our 250+ member Rutgers Hockey alumni group, led by current Assistant Coach Adriaan Klaassen and a small committee of dedicated and influential alumni, has begun taking steps to raise support and endowment funds necessary to accomplish the goal of bringing NCAA Ice Hockey to Rutgers.

...

The first thing we need to do is to "GET THE WORD OUT". Many in the NJ hockey community, as well as Rutgers alumni and administrators, are not even aware that Rutgers has a nationally competitive club hockey program that represents the university throughout the country every year. Converting our club program into an NCAA Division 1 program will be easier than building a Division 1 program from scratch, but it is a daunting challenge.

There's a long way to go before this dream is ever realized.

The current home of Rutgers hockey is a small rink in Monmouth Junction. It's not an NCAA-caliber venue, and there doesn't seem to be an existing rink in the area that would work for the team -- unless they play at Prudential Center in Newark or something crazy like that. They'd likely need to build a new facility, and that's where it gets expensive. They'll probably need a big-money donor (or two or three) to step up and help if they want to actually make this thing happen.

Step 1 in that process is showing that the interest is there, and 2,500 signatures is something tangible to hang their hats on. The dream came true in Happy Valley and at Arizona State. Maybe New Brunswick is next?

h/t Chris Peters