At the start of the 2015-16 hockey season the Arizona State Sun Devil’s Men’s Hockey Team became the 60th NCAA Division 1 hockey program in the country, making them just one of two DI programs located in a warm-weather state along with the University of Alabama-Huntsville. The Wildcats should follow the lead of their in-state rivals and become the third.
ACHA vs. NCAA
You may be thinking that U of A already has a hockey team, and they do, they’ve played here since 1979. They just don’t have a NCAA team; here’s the difference.
Since its inception, the University of Arizona Wildcats hockey team has been a club sport; meaning that players do not receive scholarships and the program does not have full financial backing from the University. This forces players to pay out-of-pocket plus tuition each season to play. Finances are the key difference between the club American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) and full NCAA DI sponsored hockey.
In the NCAA, hockey programs are like any other sport where players get scholarships and programs get the financial backing they need. This is why virtually every college-bound NHL prospect chooses the NCAA over the ACHA. Why would they pay full tuition and pay out-of-pocket at U of A when they could go to an NCAA school and get it for free? Because of this, the quality of play is much higher in the NCAA.
This leads to the first reason why the Wildcats should make the jump to the NCAA: better players wearing the block A.
Keeping up with the competition
ASU will not be the last school to join the NCAA in a non-tradtional market; the Sun Devils are only the start of the NCAA Hockey’s southward expansion. The University of Nevada- Las Vegas’ ACHA club has made their plans to become the 61st DI program well-known, having multiple donors that will give them the necessary funding to make the jump. Grand Canyon University in Phoenix also recently launched an ACHA program, with plans to eventually transition to the NCAA.
NCAA hockey is currently growing as more and more players are choosing the NCAA over the traditionally dominant Major Junior hockey route. If U of A wants to remain a premier institution in the world of college athletics, they need to expand into emerging college sports like hockey if they are to keep up with both national and regional competition.
The U of A will be able to outspend and out-recruit smaller schools
Although, like ASU, Arizona will experience growing pains in the early years of their transition; they would have the potential to become one of the best hockey schools in the country. Being a Pac-12 school and one of the largest public universities in the country, U of A will be able to outspend smaller existing programs such as St. Cloud State and Ferris State.
Another key advantage that would work in U of A’s favor is the weather. What kid from Michigan, Minnesota, Canada or Northern Europe (or any other cold region) wouldn’t want to come play hockey for free at a great school in sunny Tucson, Arizona?
More Arizona Athletics
This is a U of A town, it always has been and always will be and the way I see it, the more great Wildcat teams we have to root for, the better the Tucson sports scene becomes.