NCAA hockey and the Pac-10

San Jose State vs. USC, October 3, 2009 (via davelawrence).

Recently, the NCAA's Pac-10 added a new school to their athletic conference, the University of Colorado. The University of Utah has been formally invited to join as well, but their decision is pending as of the time of this writing. So by 2012, the Pac-10 may become the Pac-12.

How does this figure into hockey? Well, there has been talk periodically among hockey fans on the West Coast as to why the current Pac-10 doesn't have any ice hockey teams. The University of Colorado also doesn't have a hockey team, and should Utah accept the Pacific Conference invitation, they don't have a team, either.

To those in the Midwest and the East Coast, there might seem an obvious answer. It doesn't snow and freeze enough out there for the talent to develop. Frankly, that's a bit short-sighted as most hockey players in North America get the majority of their ice time on indoor rinks - cold climate or not.

The state of California alone has 14 hockey teams, three of which are in the NHL - the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Anaheim Ducks. There are also three ECHL teams, four Western States Hockey League (Junior A Tier III) teams, and four college club teams in the Pac-8 that are a part of the American College Hockey Association (ACHA; which is not an NCAA sanctioned sports entity): Stanford, UC-Berkeley, UCLA, and USC. There are another 12 ACHA men's teams that are outside of the Pac-8 in California as well.

The Southern California Amateur Hockey Association (SCAHA) has "23 member clubs and is currently the largest youth hockey league in the western United States", according to their website. The California Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA) has two other member associations besides the SCAHA, the Northern California Junior Hockey Association (NORCAL) with 14 club teams, and Pacific District Hockey with five club teams.

Oregon, being much less populated, doesn't quite have the number of teams and leagues that California has. Washington State has quite a bit more than Oregon, but still not as many as California. Parts of Nevada and Arizona also have some serious youth hockey programs as well. And there have been a small number of NHLers to come out of California and Washington State. So the talent is there for recruiting for college players; obviously, as major junior teams in the Western Hockey League (WHL) have started to target those states for players themselves.

There are two issues, other than availability of talent, facing colleges and universities in the West that may want to start an NCAA sanctioned hockey team.

The first major issue is Title IX. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states

"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

What this means in practical terms is that universities are required to have as many male athletes and scholarships as female athletes and scholarships. This does not mean that there must be two of every sport - there are no NCAA women's football teams, after all. Nor does it mean that there must be an equal number of women's teams to men's teams.

What it does mean is that the number of male and female athletes should be equal. Which is why schools that have football teams have more women's sports teams than they do men's sports teams. One football team has approximately 56 athletes, and that ends up being about two to three women's teams as a general rule.

Adding hockey complicates things in that a school would either need to add a women's hockey team along with a men's hockey team, or they would have to cancel another men's program to accommodate the new hockey team so that there wouldn't be more male athletes than female athletes. And any or all of that right there can be a sticky proposition.

The second major issue is money. Not just in maintaining a team and its subsequent scholarships, but also travel costs for playing. The only sport that usually makes a profit at most schools is football, and football is what subsidizes most of the rest of the sports. Not everywhere, but at schools with successful football programs it's especially true. And that includes most of Division I football.

The way the money issue in hockey plays out is mostly travel costs. Yes, hockey is not a cheap sport to play. Equipment is expensive, and ice time can really add up fast. But there are ways around that with fundraisers and boosters to help out. Travel costs are what kill a sport like hockey out in the West even before it gets started.

For the Pac-10 schools to play hockey, the entire conference would have to add teams. Otherwise, the closest college hockey teams to the schools in that conference are the University of Denver and Colorado College in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA). After that, every other school that has a team is in the Midwest or the Northeast - besides the University of Alaska at Anchorage, of course. And it isn't any better for the women, either.

It would be extremely difficult to add hockey to all 10 - soon to be at least 11 - universities in the Pac-10. Even on their own, with just club teams, only eight schools have teams. And even those teams are regarded as Division II within the ACHA club team structure. Anything less than NCAA Division I anything wouldn't be good enough for any of schools in this conference.

So is NCAA sanctioned hockey in the Pacific Conference a pipe dream? Not necessarily. Although, it would have a better chance at survival if most - preferably all - of the teams in the conference joined in at the same time. However, that's not very likely to happen.

The best chance for NCAA hockey in the Pac-10 would be for the California schools to make a financial commitment to the sport, and let it grow from there. There seems to be a fan interest in it, but it's the schools that make the final decision. As of right now, there has been no serious talk at the institutional level of adding hockey to the Pacific Conference.

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