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Is It Time To Consider Elevating Club Hockey To Varsity?

September 9, 2010
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Courtesy ACCHockey.com

A good friend of mine sent me this link from Technician today, about how State’s perennially strong club hockey team and how they were able to draw over 500 students to both the UNC and Duke games last season, and it got me to thinking: Should State consider elevating hockey to varsity status?

Now before you laugh at the figure of 500 students, ask yourself (as my friend did), could you imagine getting 500 students to show up to the following varsity events at State: cross country, golf, tennis, rifle and most non-conference soccer matches (not sure if the move to the on-campus facility has improved the soccer numbers greatly or not)?

With a new AD in town–who oversaw an athletics department that grew to 27 teams under her watch–my guess is we’ll likely see some additional sports added to State’s compliment over Debbie Yow’s tenure when the financial numbers make sense. More sports mean more opportunities to improve our woeful Director Cup standings, on which she’s vowed to have us among the nation’s best. If and when the time comes to add, why not look at upgrading club hockey to varsity status?

State, Duke and UNC all field club hockey teams, and in fact Duke’s team has been quite good lately, but the Pack have one large advantage over our two blood blooded neighbors: The RBC Center.

It’s a ready-made, top-notch venue for Pack Hockey. It’s a building we already cohabit with a pro hockey franchise in the Carolina Hurricanes, a franchise with two Stanley Cup Final appearances and one Cup win already under its belt. Think of it this way: It won’t cost N.C. State one thin dime to provide a $200 million facility (in 2010 dollars) to host the team.

I thought hockey would be a tough sell in the area, but the Canes’ success has proven me wrong. Kids are picking up the sport at an early age here in the Triangle and are playing in competitive leagues. Having a varsity college hockey team sharing the RBC Center can only improve the sports’ growing appeal in the Raleigh area.

Just imagine the recruiting advantage the RBC Center would afford State Hockey. I can’t imagine too many varsity college teams play in an arena of the RBC Center’s quality. State could pull in serious young hockey talent interested in attending a school in one of the best places to live in America whose climate seven months out of the year doesn’t match the temperature of the ice these players are used to skating on. Pair the temperate clime with a pro arena and State would hit the ground running (hit the ice skating?) from Day One on the youth hockey recruiting trail.

But there’s another reason I think the move now makes sense. The addition of Boston College as part of the ACC’s expansion to 12 teams added a legitimate college hockey power to the league. The Eagles have won three NCAA hockey titles since 2001 and are the current defending champions.

Their inclusion to the ACC family makes BC the only conference partner, however, with a varsity squad. I think the ACC needs another.

While a school further north like Maryland or UVa might make more sense from a geographic standpoint, the Wolfpack finds itself located in a very unique market that makes it a logical fit for a varsity squad. (Maryland’s close proximity to the DC market puts them within reach of a pro hockey franchise, but from a pro-sports perspective, DC will always be a Redskins town–though the Capitals have made great strides in building their brand.) The unique preexisting partnership State has with the Hurricanes only makes it an easier sell.

I realize it’s a long shot, and stands about an ice rink’s chance in hell of coming to fruition. Were Debbie Yow to explore adding programs, it would seem adding a matching set of men’s/women’s lacrosse teams would make a more natural and cost effective leap.

Taking hockey to varsity status would require adding an accompanying women’s sport to stay in Title IX compliance, but if it’s up for debate, might I suggest adding women’s field hockey? It’s a different field type, set of rules, venue, etc.–women’s field hockey is more different than alike when compared to ice hockey–but it would thrust State into the fray against our blue brethren in a sport where they are perennially some of the nation’s best.

I was wrong about the possibility of pro hockey surviving in Raleigh. Its ability to thrive over the last decade tells me N.C. State Hockey could very well do the same here and prove that just like its pro counterpart, hockey at all levels in the South can make it.

Visit these site for more information about N.C. State’s Club Hockey team or the league–the ACCHL–in which they play.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. sbas2 permalink
    September 9, 2010 1:37 pm

    while i am not a big hockey fan, i certainly would fine interest in a State hockey team. all of your comments about the RBC Center and State hockey are viable. i am assuming a hockey team would be supported with a number of scholarships; thus, an issue standing in the way is Title 9. a men’s hockey team supported with even limited scholarship players would require further women’s sports teams.
    i would like to add that i fully support title 9. it has added women’s basketball and softball, both of which i support by attending games. SBAS2.

  2. sbas2 permalink
    September 9, 2010 3:41 pm

    spelling correction: “i…would fine” to “i…would find”.

  3. AParker permalink
    September 9, 2010 4:01 pm

    Actually, if State wants to get another men’s sport, one that could be offset by having a womens sport using the same field, I think they should bring back Lacrosse. They already have a decent soccer stadium and multi-purpose (like Duke, UNC, and Maryland do). State still holds a few of the ACC’s lacrosse Records (Goals in a season I believe is the big one) and still has a good passion from former players who donate money to its Club program. I like your thinking on the hockey deal, but I think Lacrosse would be a bigger draw, and as can be seen in the ESPN deal, has a larger recruit/tv/audience draw then even NCAA baseball.

    • September 9, 2010 5:02 pm

      AParker,

      Thanks for reading!

      Obviously the most logical choices to expand both the men’s and women’s sports programs would be to add both men’s and women’s lacrosse. Whenever you can add both men’s and women’s versions of any sport, I would think that’s ideal. Sbas2 mentioned adding women’s lacrosse to fulfill the Title IX requirement, and I would prefer to add both genders of lacrosse or none at all. I could see State expanding first by adding both LAX programs, waiting a period of time, then expanding further if folks in Case Hall were serious about upgrading hockey. At that time we would likely add field hockey for Title IX purposes.

      So that would be FOUR additional varsity sports–a tremendous increase in expenditure to take on in a short (even within a decade) timeframe. I would love to see hockey/field hockey first, but as you point out State has existing ACC time logged in lacrosse, so more than likely those two would be added before hockey/field hockey.

      I just hate seeing a passionate NCSU club hockey squad play at the Icehouse (no offense, Icehouse folks) when they could be facing off in the RBC.

      • AParker permalink
        September 10, 2010 10:11 am

        I used to frequent YANCSSB back in the day, just found out yal moved here. Grew up a State fan actually, but perfectly glad at where I ended up. State needs to get back into the Lacrosse game. It is a huge money maker for the ACC schools as a spring sport, simply due to the tv deals that get made, and that the schools that play are big name programs such as Ohio State, Penn State, John Hopkins (you know, Valvano’s first coaching stop?), Michigan, etc. It would open eyeballs again from the Northeast and Mid west to the school, and is an extremely exciting sport to watch and play. And with your new AD, being that she was at Maryland the past decade, knows that this is a good spring revenue area. Not to mention, it gives you another way to beat UNC each year, which is something we all need.

  4. tjfoose permalink
    September 10, 2010 2:47 am

    The RBC center would not be available to an NC State hockey team… Management already struggles with balancing the ‘Canes and Wolfpack basketball, along with various concerts and other events.

    Gail Force holdings is not about to trade big money events, such as Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, and the NHL All Star game for an NC State hockey team in its infancy. Sorry.

    Even if it was logistically possible, it wouldn’t happen. The RBC is managed in a partnership between NC State and the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes would not welcome another Hockey team to the area, let alone to their home arena, to compete against them for the cash/time of the local community.

    The Hurricanes are successful only because the draw from, and UNITE, the local community and the fan bases of the local universities.

    Bad idea, but nice hypothetical discussion… But NC State Hockey at the RBC Center is simply not an option. Since the RBC Center is a main component of your argument, there goes your argument.

    • September 12, 2010 9:26 pm

      TJ: Thanks for your response.

      You seem quite certain on a couple of points of your argument regarding the RBC Center that I don’t–from my perspective–see as open-and-shut cases against Varsity Hockey.

      Regarding your first point: Scheduling. I took a look at Boston College’s 2010-11 hockey schedule to get an idea of how many home games a varsity hockey team might expect to play. BC will play 13 games at Chestnut Hill from the timeframe of late October – March, or a little over 5 months. That’s roughly 3 games a month.

      Visiting the RBC Center’s website, using the event calendar on the lower left-hand side, I can scroll through the coming months and see which dates are free.

      Starting with the last week of October:
      – 4 free days in last week of October.
      – 20 free days in November.
      – 17 free days in December.
      – 18 free days in January.
      – 18 free days in February.
      – 21 free day in March.

      While it’s not simply a matter of slapping games on the free days anywhere you please, the RBC calendar DOES offer 98 free dates to fit 13 home games. The RBC Center’s schedule isn’t nearly as packed as you seem to make it out to be.

      To your second point: a competing hockey team in the area. I frankly don’t see the Carolina Hurricanes objecting here one bit. While hockey has taken root better than I imagined it would, you can’t tell me that its popularity is maxed out in the market, a market flooded with State fans. If you’re an NHL franchise looking to grow the sport in your market, looking for an “in” with a segment of the population that never grew up playing, attending or even watching pro hockey, having a college team that can bring in new faces could only be a benefit. Joe State Fan–a native North Carolinian who lives in Wake County and has been curious about the sport of hockey since the arrival of Hurricanes but hasn’t been enticed enough to spend pro-hockey prices for Hurricanes tickets, may take the leap to plunk down $10 on State Hockey tickets to see what the sport’s all about. He may find–like so many do–that hockey as a sport is FAR more enjoyable in person than on TV, and might become a fan. To the point where he might then take that next leap to take in a Hurricanes game. And who knows…the ‘Canes might’ve landed a fan for life and a future season ticket holder.

      Point being, if State Hockey can serve as a gateway to the large number of State fans in the area who haven’t given the Hurricanes a chance, the Hurricanes most DEFINITELY would welcome sharing their arena with State Hockey, in my opinion.

      Further, I don’t see how sharing an arena with State Hockey would be any more divisive to local hockey fans from other college fanbases than sharing it with State Basketball, which the Hurricanes obviously already do.

      You may believe it’s a “bad idea,” but I don’t see how you’ve adequately backed up that assertion. The RBC Center, from the evidence I see, would most definitely be in play as a venue, making varsity State Hockey a very real–if not highly realistic–possibility.

      • tjfoose permalink
        September 13, 2010 4:38 am

        Perhaps “bad idea” was a bad choice of words.

        But regardless, until there are drastic demographic changes in the area, an NC State Hockey season at the RBC is not going to happen. Period.

        I’m not saying that I, personally, am against it, just that it won’t happen. The logistics and economics are not there to support such a venture.

        Getting 500 students to attend an NC State hockey game at the RBC Center would not even cover the facility operation costs, let alone the cost of a potential facility configuration conversion.

        Finally, your statement “but I don’t see how you’ve adequately backed up that assertion.” is not germane.

        I don’t have to. The only point I am making is that NC State Hockey at the RBC Center will not happen given the Triangle’s current demographics.

        However, you, as the author of this piece, are attempting to ‘sell’ and idea to the public. In doing so, you are proposing a change to the status quo which could potentially incur additional costs upon the public via NC State University. It is you who must back up your contentions and assertions, not I.

        Not only have you not “adequately backed up” that NC State Hockey should be played at the RBC Center, you haven’t “adequately backed up” that Hockey should be a varsity sport at NC State.

        You speak in generalities, you provide weak anecdotal support of your position, but no evidence. Where are the financials? The associated costs? The break even point? Expected revenues?

        Where is the discussion of the partnership agreement between NC State and Gail Force Holdings and how it might affect the feasibility of you idea? Where’s the discussion of revenue sharing agreement? Who would be responsible for potential net losses of hosting a college hockey game? How would potential revenues be shared before expenses are covered, after they are paid?

        According to the partnership agreement, what’s the differences between NC State events and non NC State events? Does the partnership agreement even allow for another NC State sport at the RBC Center?

        Have you even considered any of the above?

        No where in this piece do even even reference the relative high expense of a hockey program (equipment, practice facilities, travel, etc).

        I had thought this article was provided as an idea… an intellectual exercise, so to speak… something to discuss amongst your readers. If you want our opinions “adequately backed up”, I have no problem with that… but I suggest you follow your own advice in your articles before asking such from a passing reader sharing an opinion by posting a comment.

        I repeat, a varsity NC State Hockey season at the RBC Center will not happen.

        for your article is wrought with incorrect assumptions,

      • September 13, 2010 9:25 am

        TJ,

        First off, let me apologize if I came across as confrontational in my reply. I think I read the words “bad idea” and went into “mama bear” mode. Sorry about that.

        You’re right: I have not considered many of the things you asked about. You’re also right to say that I’m trying to sell an idea at this point, not submit a formal proposal to the athletics department, so at this point I didn’t feel the need to go as in-depth into the logistics and financials as would be necessary before making such a formal proposal.

        I realize my reply seemed to criticize you for not doing the same, but I felt I needed to address your two main tenants instead of simply accepting them at face value.

        I will say this: I’m still not convinced it’s a total non-starter as an idea. Many of State’s 23 sports are financial losers. In fact, only three that I know of turn a profit or even break even (football, mbball, baseball), and women’s basketball–despite the attendance numbers–operates perhaps the biggest deficit of any sport at State. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be saying State should pass on hockey because it would be a financial loser. Nearly any sport State adds will be. Perhaps men’s lacrosse could break even with TV revenue, but most any other program would be a financial drain.

        I’d love to get in the ear of someone high up in the athletics department to hear their thoughts on a lot of the questions you asked. They’re all very good points to consider, and perhaps they’ve already considered them and could give me a definitive response on why hockey wouldn’t work in Raleigh at the RBC Center. At that point I would concede the idea and move on.

        Again, thanks for stopping by.

    • September 14, 2010 11:37 am

      I the the Hurricanes would hardly be intimidated by a college hockey team coming to town. Seems like they even welcome it, as raising the image of the sport in the area is only going to help them in the long run.

      I agree that GFH (who leases and operates the RBC Center) are not going to often rent the place for college hockey, mainly because it would be far less than profitable.

      However, there is another answer. If you are my age, you may remember ice skating inside Reynolds Coliseum. That’s because Reynolds used to have a rink inside its friendly confines.

      See: http://historicalstate.lib.ncsu.edu/catalog/0004457

      Yes, a retrofit would be a bit expensive, but perhaps NCSU could take advantage of the current economic climate and purchase the chillers and other gear necessary to re-convert Reynolds from a bankrupt minor league team or even large rink that’s going out of business.

      All you need is a benefactor.

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