Simon Fraser making cases to join Division I lineup?

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Sept. 21, 2016

Simon Fraser making cases to join Division I lineup?

By Roman J. Uschak

BURNABY, British Columbia - Penn State entered the Division I ranks in 2012-13, starting its fifth season as a varsity program in 2016-17 (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Arizona State became the 60th current school to ice an NCAA Division I men’s hockey program last season.

Others could possibly be on the way, but there’s a lot to be done before that can happen.

Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, became the first Canadian/international school to gain membership in the NCAA five years ago. It offers 14 varsity sports in all, but surprisingly, hockey is not one of them, although that could change.

Another potential Division I hockey tryout for a new school could come this fall, as Simon Fraser is scheduled to play exhibition games against northwest “neighbors” Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska (Fairbanks), plus two games at Arizona State.

The Clan has also played against other NCAA opponents in the past besides the Alaska schools, such as Holy Cross, Miami, Northeastern and Princeton. SFU even stretched visiting North Dakota to the limit before falling 4-3 in Jan. 2014.

In April of this year, SFU revealed that it had hired Collegiate Consulting for the purposes of researching a potential business model that would support both NCAA hockey and sand (beach) volleyball programs at the school. The report was expected to reach completion in six months.

“Collegiate Consulting is helping us determine the expenses and revenue opportunities associated with hockey and sand volleyball for our market,” Simon Fraser senior director of athletics and recreation Theresa Hanson said in a statement. “At the same time, we are reviewing our current organizational structure and budget model and developing a business plan that will address the gaps and help us move forward in a positive and sustainable way”.

In almost all its other intercollegiate sports, SFU competes in NCAA Division II as a member of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC), which does not sponsor hockey.

“Canada versus the United States has worked at all levels of international hockey, and we want to understand what that would look like from a business perspective at the collegiate hockey level,” added Hanson. “If these programs work from a business perspective, then I believe these two initiatives have the potential to strengthen Simon Fraser’s reputation and add prestige to the university, enable us to continue to recruit the best student-athletes and the best faculty, and will immeasurably strengthen campus life.”

SFU director of hockey operations Chris Munshaw could not comment officially on behalf of the athletics department when asked this summer about the possibility of the club team moving up to NCAA Division I. As one could guess, however, hockey would be a natural candidate to become a varsity sport in Western Canada.

“BC is such a hockey-crazed market and with SFU being Canada’s only NCAA member, it’s been a popular debate from day one in and around the school,” he said in July.

It’s not like the possibility of college hockey programs upgrading from the club level to NCAA Division I hasn’t been accomplished before. The overriding factor, of course, is money—and obviously not everyone has a Terry Pegula who can donate $102 million of his own money to not only fund hockey scholarships at Penn State, but also house NCAA programs in a new, state-of-the-art, on-campus rink.

Money, of course, would also be a factor, and is seemingly in short supply in higher education today. That includes in Alaska, where either the Alaska Nanooks or UAA Seawolves, or even both teams, could potentially cease to exist if budget cuts there run deeply enough to warrant eliminating college hockey in the 49th State altogether.

There have been stops and starts in the past, elsewhere, before Penn State and Arizona State joined the NCAA Division I roster in the last few years.

Minnesota State-Moorhead, which also utilized Collegiate Consulting for its study, considering upgrading its hockey program to Division I in 2012, but couldn’t meet a self-imposed deadline for obtaining a $37 million endowment from private sources.

Other Division I men’s hockey programs have gotten started and given it a go for a while over the last 50 years, only to ultimately turn out the lights. That list includes Fairfield, Findlay, Illinois-Chicago, Iona, Kent, Northern Arizona, U.S. International and Wayne State.

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