Year in Sports : On ice: Though interest remains, addition of D-I men’s hockey faces major obstacles

first_img Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Year in Sports: Part 5 of 9The atmosphere on the Cornell campus was ‘electric’ in 1967. Nearly everyone buzzed over the men’s ice hockey team.Jim Hyla, a senior at the time, knew something special was happening in Ithaca, N.Y. Professors rescheduled ‘prelims’ — midterms — because the original times conflicted with hockey games. Midway through the season, Hyla and about 60 other students bought tickets to the national semifinals in anticipation of seeing their school play for a national championship. His dad paid for the tickets while he collected the money from his friends.‘It was pretty intense in the whole campus,’ Hyla said. ‘That kind of stuff doesn’t happen very often at an Ivy League.’A few months later, Hyla and some friends spent the weekend at his home in Syracuse and watched Cornell hockey win its first national championship at the War Memorial Arena. The Big Red defeated Boston University 4-1, beginning the rich winning tradition at Cornell.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textThough Cornell and other Central New York schools have thrived in college hockey for decades, Syracuse has never been a part of that storied history. SU Athletic Director Daryl Gross came to Syracuse six years ago with aspirations to change that.Gross expressed interest in adding men’s ice hockey at his initial press conference in December 2004 and then again in January 2007. But more than four years later, with a women’s team already established, SU has shown little interest in adding men’s ice hockey to its Division I program.‘We are concentrating on the sports we have, trying to provide the resources that they need to be successful. That is where our energy is right now,’ Gross said in a statement.Gross announced the addition of women’s ice hockey and the end of the men’s and women’s swimming programs in June 2007. In the months before the announcement, SU was gathering facts for both men’s and women’s ice hockey programs, according to a January 2007 article in The Post-Standard.When Hyla, a Syracuse native and Cornell hockey season-ticket holder for more than 30 years, saw the articles in the papers, he was excited at the possibility. So he emailed Gross to invite him to a game at Cornell’s Lynah Rink. Though Gross never responded, Syracuse officials contacted Anita Brenner, Cornell’s associate athletic director, to find out what goes into running a successful ice hockey program.Brenner said she provided them with an overview of costs and other information associated with ice hockey. SU officials were also given a tour of Cornell’s facilities, Brenner said.‘Syracuse is no stranger to event management,’ Brenner said. ‘But every sport has unique facilities, demands and its own character, so I think as a team that’s been around a while, yeah, they wanted to see what we were doing.’Since then, though, Brenner has not heard anything from SU. Though Syracuse’s interest in the sport may have peaked in 2007, looking into the potential of a program was nothing new.Jake Crouthamel, SU’s athletic director from 1978 to 2005, had thought about adding a hockey program for years. Though not a hockey ‘freak,’ Crouthamel was a fan who attended all the home games as a student at Dartmouth College.For Crouthamel, that experience and seeing the success of Cornell in Central New York over the years made the sport an attractive possibility. And even though SU didn’t have an ice arena on campus, Crouthamel thought a team could play downtown at the War Memorial Arena.‘People kept saying, ‘Well, you don’t have an arena, you don’t have any ice. What are you going to do for ice?” Crouthamel said. ‘And my notion was to play downtown and arrange a schedule so that we didn’t interfere with anybody else’s schedule down there.’But after taking a closer look, Crouthamel realized it would be too complicated to create games and practice schedules that didn’t conflict with the Syracuse Crunch.‘Without a facility, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense from a performance standpoint,’ Crouthamel said.Syracuse does have an ice rink on campus now in the Tennity Ice Pavilion, which opened in 2000 for recreational purposes and currently serves as the home of the women’s program. But it is too small to support a Division I men’s hockey program, Crouthamel said. The listed capacity of Tennity is 350, but it has seen crowds of up to 511 in the first three years of the women’s program.With the expenses of an ice hockey program — including scholarships, coaches’ salaries, equipment, ice and transportation — Crouthamel said it would have to generate a revenue stream to at least equal those costs. And Tennity’s capacity is not large enough to hold the number of fans needed to do that, Crouthamel said.Lou Spiotti Jr., athletic director at Rochester Institute of Technology, said an on-campus facility is needed to be a top program. Recruits want to play in state-of-the-art hockey facilities in front of dedicated fans, Spiotti said.‘Let’s face it, it’s very hard to build a successful hockey program without quality facilities,’ Spiotti said. ‘I don’t know of any college hockey program in the nation that has been successful over the long term without their own arena and a good arena.’Spiotti recognizes this need for his already successful program. He has watched his men’s program excel in Division I since making the jump from Division III in 2005. The Tigers have won four of the last five Atlantic Hockey Association regular-season championships and made an improbable run to the 2010 Frozen Four in their first NCAA tournament appearance.To stay on top, Spiotti said it is necessary for RIT to build a new arena to replace Frank Ritter Ice Arena. Spiotti said he expects a new arena to be completed in three to five years and that many fans have been turned away in the past because of Ritter Arena’s limited capacity. The new venue will nearly double the 2,100 seats in Ritter Arena and will cost between $30 million to $35 million.Jim Watters, RIT’s senior vice president for finance and administration, said the larger facility will generate more revenue through increased ticket sales and concessions and by hosting special events, such as concerts and high school graduations.And at a school where men’s hockey is the only Division I program, it is easier to raise money to fund a new facility.‘Hockey for us is the major sport here and has been for a very long time,’ Watters said. ‘So we have the ability, I think, to put a more concerted effort behind generating interest there and generating financial support.’RIT received an opening gift of $1 million from alumni Stephen and Vicki Schultz. Penn State received an $88 million donation from alumnus and Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula to start men’s and women’s ice hockey programs and build a new arena. PSU will begin play in 2012-13.Joe Gladziszewski, an editor at Inside College Hockey and a Syracuse alumnus, said SU would need a similar big-money donation to inspire the creation of a men’s program. He said donors would be more likely to invest in established programs, such as basketball and football.Without a history like those sports, though, it’s a long shot to see SU getting the donation needed for ice hockey anytime soon.‘Somebody might hit the lottery or have a business venture that takes off, and that might be something they’d be interested in,’ Gladziszewski said.Even if it did get a donor to fund a facility and startup costs, Syracuse would need to develop a fan base to support the program and other costs.Crouthamel, the former athletic director, said he felt confident a program could succeed because of the popularity of ice hockey in Central New York. But in the current economic times, people are less likely to support it.‘You’re talking about calling on a community that is not Wall Street,’ Crouthamel said. ‘And with all due respect to the community, that’s not a putdown. The community is very, very supportive of the major sports at Syracuse.’Michael Veley, director of the sport management program at Syracuse, said it would be tough for the community to support SU basketball, the Syracuse Crunch and a men’s ice hockey program in the winter. And with any ice hockey season stretching from fall to spring, it would also compete with football and lacrosse.‘Can you establish a brand new sport where basketball clearly is king in Syracuse?’ Veley said. ‘And it always will be.’These hypothetical hurdles for SU are very real for Connecticut and its Division I men’s ice hockey program.Syracuse’s Big East counterpart has a similar athletic budget focused on football and men’s basketball. The men’s ice hockey program has taken a backseat in importance.Like conference rival RIT, UConn does not offer athletic scholarships. But unlike RIT, where ice hockey is a top priority, UConn has struggled to compete.UConn has had 11 straight losing seasons after two consecutive winning seasons in the program’s first two years in Division I. Head coach Bruce Marshall said the lack of athletic scholarships has made it tough to win. Marshall can’t sway recruits with that incentive, so he finds it hard to compete with bigger programs like Boston College.‘Are you going to get the kid that’s between UConn and BC? Probably not,’ Marshall said.But to give hockey scholarships, UConn would have to add a women’s sport or drop a men’s sport to comply with Title IX.‘We can’t throw things out of whack right now,’ Marshall said. ‘We’re in pretty good balance right now, and until we find some other way to keep it in balance by adding things, then we just have to go where it is.’Marshall said the football team is the driving force in the athletic department. With 85 football scholarships, it’s harder to balance scholarships for other men’s sports. UConn is one of just 13 schools that has Division I football and hockey, and Army and Boston College are the only other schools from the Northeast.Syracuse would run into the same issue. Michael Wasylenko, a Syracuse faculty athletic representative to the NCAA, said the biggest issue with Title IX is the underlying expense. Adding a men’s and women’s program comes with a high price tag.And with the university in a tight fiscal situation right now, Wasylenko said it would be hard to gain support for a program.‘The mood of the institution and the faculty and some of the people in the University Senate is that we don’t want to put any more money into athletics,’ Wasylenko said. ‘So already you’re swimming upstream here.’With a history of losing at the D-I level, UConn’s men’s ice hockey team has often failed to get even 1,000 people for games in its 2,000-seat arena.But at Cornell, ice hockey has had a dedicated following, beginning with that magical 1966-67 season. Hyla camped out overnight for season tickets outside of Teagle Hall that fall. It was the first time he remembers students forming a line the night before.Hyla waited in his car all night, getting out to check back every hour or so to keep his place in line, which was written down on a piece of paper. Over the years, the line grew and evolved into an event.Veley, a former associate athletic director for communications at Cornell and current director of sport management at SU, compares the experience to Krzyzewskiville at Duke. He remembers students lining up a full week in advance for tickets. Students camped out on intramural fields outdoors before moving indoors to the Lynah Rink floor due to safety concerns.And the students would go to great lengths to be a part of the Lynah Faithful, the student section.‘People used to start making fake IDs because you were only limited to, like, two tickets per person,’ Veley said. ‘They’re going to try to beat the system any way they can.’Mike McConney, senior captain of the Syracuse men’s club hockey team, dreams of the day when a similar scene unfolds at SU. He believes an ice hockey team could generate the same passion among the student body as basketball does.‘I think kids would jump on board with that and definitely become super, super passionate about it like you see with basketball,’ McConney said. ‘Kids painting their bodies and just lining up to get into the Dome and just sleep there.‘I think you would see the same type of support.’For now, though, the scene is only hypothetical.As Gross said, SU is focused on its current programs. Perhaps none more than football.Veley said he can see a need for a new football-only practice facility at Syracuse before an ice hockey program, even with the recent renovation of Manley Field House. Recruits are wowed by the ‘glitz and glam’ of state-of-the-art facilities, and that can be the difference in their decision.Veley can see football recruits choosing to play at other Big East schools over Syracuse based on the quality of practice facilities.The ‘facilities arms race’ that began in the mid-1990s has been a key factor in recruiting and the success of football programs across the country.‘It’s quickly spiraled out of control,’ Veley said. ‘If you’re going to remain competitive, you’ve got to have facilities. It’s the name of the game.’The same is true for men’s ice hockey. It would take a considerable investment just to build the facility needed for a competitive program. And for a program that would likely struggle to break even — let alone make money — the price for an arena and the additional costs are too high for Syracuse.That money would be better spent on a revenue generator like football, which is constantly under pressure to stay competitive and profitable.‘You’ve got to put your resources into your revenue-generating sports,’ Veley said. ‘BCS schools have no other option.’[email protected]center_img Published on April 27, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Ryne: [email protected]last_img

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