News broke this week that Augustana University in Sioux Falls plans on adding D1 men's hockey in 2023, which would make the Vikings the first such team in South Dakota. You know I love when a new NCAA team is coming down the pipeline and the Augustana development comes on the heels of Tennessee State announcing a feasibility study for the first-ever hockey program at an HBCU. The University of St. Thomas joins the new WCHA next season and Lindenwood (near St. Louis) is expected to add men's hockey soon, with the Lions already in on the women's side.
Which means it's a great time to speculate about some other schools that could go D1 in the future, because it is one of my favorite pastimes. I'm going to focus on big-name schools here, as the ability to draw eyeballs from American sports fans who might not have otherwise tuned in to NCAA hockey will be key to the growth of the game in the future. There's also the matter of geographically filling in the map for a sport that has made in-roads in "non-traditional" markets such as Arizona State, but still has a lot of ground available. And of course, tie-ins with NHL franchises and established conferences - or possible future power conferences - get my brain going as well. For the sake of logistics, assume these new programs build men's and women's teams. Let's get to it.
University of Texas: Hockey has been growing in the Lone Star State since the Dallas Stars came in and started building rinks - and wouldn't you know it? Home-grown talent followed. The Longhorns are based in the capital of Austin and the AHL's Texas Stars play in the suburbs there. The state has a bunch of NAHL squads and if proximity to Dallas matters, you could go with Southern Methodist or Texas Christian (the Horned Frogs!) instead.
University of South Florida: Despite a growing hockey community and a couple successful stints as Frozen Four hosts, Florida doesn't have a D1 team yet. But the Bulls play in Tampa, where the Lightning and its ownership have done a fantastic job building up the sport. Being able to host a couple home games each season at Amalie Arena would be pretty enticing and I can't imagine recruiting would be too difficult.
UCLA: California has become a huge hockey market with tons of talent developed in-state. But imagine if you could keep some of those kids around for college. UCLA or their blood rivals from Southern Cal seem like obvious choices for a future program in the Los Angeles area and setting up both would make for instant must-see games. Hollywood has plenty of deep-pocketed hockey fans to help on the financial side, though Jerry Bruckheimer is kinda busy with the Seattle Kraken right now.
Stanford University: We've got Southern California covered, but what about Northern California? Again, we have a choice, this time between Stanford and Cal-Berkeley. You could even throw San Jose State in the mix, though the Spartans don't have the Pac-10 affiliation of the other two. This could be key, especially if enough Pac-10 schools join Arizona State in hockey to form a group. Six Pac-10 schools would get you an automatic bid in the NCAA tournament, which is why Penn State was so crucial to the Big Ten's creation a few years ago.
North Carolina State: This is another NHL-related call and again, you can sub in Duke or North Carolina if you wish - but the Wolfpack are from Raleigh, just like the Carolina Hurricanes. So you get that support and the benefit of geographic supremacy in an area that has started developing some nice talent in recent years.
University of Maryland: As you can tell, I'm filling in the Eastern Seaboard here. But the Terrapins hold intrigue because of their Big Ten membership and their close proximity to the Washington Capitals. If not Maryland, you could also go with Georgetown, Navy or any number of Virginia schools nearby.
Rutgers University: New Jersey only has one program right now (Princeton) and based on how much talent comes out of the state, another one is needed. Rutgers has flirted with going D1 for years now but the plan just hasn't come together yet. The Scarlet Knights are in the Big Ten, so they've got a conference all set for them, plus the NHL's Devils have been great on the grassroots front.
University of Washington: Another Pac-10 school, the Huskies can ride the Seattle Kraken zeitgeist if they get on their horses fast enough. Washington State would also fit the bill as a fellow Pac-10 school, though Washington is right in Seattle proper, which makes an NHL connection easier.
UNLV: Though the Rebels aren't a Pac-10 school, their Las Vegas address would make for an easy schedule, even if a lot of it is non-conference to begin with. Or perhaps they become a Pac-10 affiliate in hockey, which would help everyone. Either way, with the NHL's Golden Knights a smash hit, college hockey could be the next step for the city.
University of Illinois: I've been saying this for years, but it's a crime that Illinois doesn't have any D1 hockey, given how many players hail from the state. Both Illinois and Northwestern are Big Ten schools, so either would work and the Illini have talked a lot about going D1 in the past (particularly when Chicago hosted the draft). Make it happen, people!