The Big Ten Hockey Conference Will Begin Play in 2013 as Big Ten Hockey Death Star Nears Completion

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It's official. The Big Ten Conference will drop the puck when the 2013-2014 NCAA Men's hockey season kicks off. Here's the relevant info from the Big Ten's press release:

The directors of athletics of Big Ten institutions which sponsor men's ice hockey unanimously announce their intention to recommend to the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors in June the establishment of men's ice hockey as an official conference sport for the 2013-14 academic year with participation by Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

The recommendation includes both the establishment of the inaugural Big Ten Men's Ice Hockey Tournament in March of 2014, with the winner earning the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, and a 20-game conference schedule with each team playing the other five schools four times (two home games and two away games). In addition, the Big Ten's men's ice hockey programs will continue to proactively work to maintain a strong schedule of non-conference competition with the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) and Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA).

As you might have suspected, the ice hockey aspect of the conference will only include men's hockey (as there aren't enough participating women's programs in the conference). The effect of the (inevitable) formation of the Big Ten Hockey Death Star will be felt all over college hockey. As the press release indicates, two charter members of the WCHA and three charter members of the CCHA are departing their respective conferences.

During the 2010 football season, our buddy Windy City Wolverine put together a massive missive explaining Why the Big Ten Hockey Conference was a big deal, What could happen when Penn State actually drops the puck, and gave you his best guess as to what would happen over the next few years to College Hockey. If you go back and re-read these predictions, he's off by a hair. It's frankly scary how close to the mark he was. The only thing that's surprising is that the Conference announced the formation of the league so quickly. I know this wasn't rocket science, but this is what he wrote last September:

With the creation of the BTHC, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin leave their current conferences, and all hell breaks looks.  A common assumption is that each Big Ten school would play the others four times, meaning that there would be a twenty game conference schedule, along with a conference tournament at a to-be-determined location or locations. 

Jackpot.

For Michigan, this is huge news for a number of reasons. First and foremost it looks like it signs the death certificate of the CCHA. Losing three schools, especially Michigan and Michigan State, will be a huge blow to programs like Western Michigan, Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, and Lake State which depend (to some degree) on having the big name universities put butts in seats during the season. The conference is left with Miami and Notre Dame as it's anchors, but still short on viability with just those two.

Second, Michigan is looking at a BRUTAL conference schedule in 2013-2014. Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan State will account for 12 games of their schedule. Nothing like playing a third of your schedule against teams that are usually in the top 10 in college hockey year in year out. Ohio State and Penn State look to be at the bottom of the conference, but the Buckeyes are improving and given the talent base in the North East, you have to think some talented players are going to want to stay at home and build a winner.

Third, moving to a six team league means that there has to be something else afoot. The CCHA and WCHA commissioners can't be thrilled about this, but it sounds like they'll play ball for the time being. Still, at just six teams, you have to think the conference is expecting at least two other schools to elevate their club programs to varsity status. I have no inside info on this, but it makes sense, right?

For the next two seasons, nothing changes. Michigan will continue playing in the CCHA and (hopefully) continue its winning ways. But once the Big Ten Hockey Death Star comes on line, there's no telling what it's affect on college hockey will truly be.

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