Anytime an NCAA school is thinking of starting a Division 1 program, I get interested. But an HBCU in Nashville considering the move? That is very interesting.
Tennessee State is an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) in the Music City and according to a local report from the Nashville Post, the Tigers are considering a feasibility study in bringing hockey to campus. The report does not distinguish whether TSU is thinking of men's and/or women's teams, but either way I think the gambit would work.
I had actually been pondering the creation of an HBCU hockey program recently but my mind had started on Howard University, perhaps the most famous HBCU and a school perfectly located in Washington, D.C., the home of the NHL's Capitals. I had also been wondering if Nashville would be getting an NCAA hockey program soon, with Vanderbilt University being the first name that came to mind.
And then the Tennessee State report dropped and the two concepts met in the middle.
Beginning with the Nashville benefit, the city has obviously gone wild for hockey in the past decade, with the fan base galvanized by the run to the 2017 Stanley Cup final. 'Smashville' became a bucket-list town for hockey fans around the world and it only makes sense to add a college team to the city's roster.
Geographically, a TSU squad would have a nearby rival in Alabama-Huntsville, while Lindenwood in St. Louis (which already has a women's team and is adding a men's squad) is a five-hour drive away. Miami, Ohio is about the same distance.
But here's where being in Nashville really pays off: because the city is a destination, you could easily host a mini-tournament at Bridgestone Arena, where the Preds play. Heck, next year the arena is hosting North Dakota and Penn State for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game - so NCAA hockey is already coming to town.
Because hockey tourists love Nashville, you could do a four-team tourney with Tennessee State and a couple of established programs with fan bases who travel and probably sell out Bridgestone for a weekend. For the rest of the season, TSU likely calls a more modest setting home, perhaps one of Nashville's practice facilities (I've been to the one in Antioch; it's very nice). Long Island University, which added women's hockey then men's hockey, plays at the New York Islanders practice facility, so there is precedent.
And based on the local report, TSU and the Predators already have a solid relationship, working together on several initiatives. So the support should be there at the NHL level.
As for recruiting, TSU would be in a unique position as an HBCU. You don't have to be Black to attend an HBCU, but for BIPOC players looking for an environment more reflective of themselves, it would seem like a great option. Timing-wise, this news also comes on the heels of a new initiative called College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, whose members and leadership could certainly help TSU with logistics and recruiting.
The fact we're only talking about a feasibility report at this point tells me the timeline here is a bit longer and that's actually great, as the potential program could be on the radar of younger players and a broader group of potential recruits who would be making long-term plans for their NCAA path.
TSU would also be a great spot for any local players and thanks to the Predators, we've seen a growing number of players coming out of Tennessee. Nashville has hosted a high school tournament called the Predators Cup for nearly 20 years and this season more than 25 high school teams played each other in league action in order to grab seedings for the tournament.
As for outside recruiting, I return you to my initial point about tourism. As we've seen with Arizona State, it's not hard to recruit players from Canada or any of the cold-weather states when you can promise sun, fun and D1 hockey. Nashville may not be as hot as Arizona, but it's still nicer than Edmonton or Ottawa in December and the city's music and party scene may entice your average hockey player thinking about things to do when they're not studying.
So the location is perfect and the opportunity is excitingly unique. Even if TSU needs five years or more to get the program off the ground, the Tigers would be a welcome addition to D1 and the hockey world in general.