Arizona State moves closer to arena deal, conference affiliation

Photo: Courtesy of Arizona State Athletics

College Hockey News reported that ASU is nearing approval of a 5,000 seat hockey arena as part of a larger project in which Wells Fargo Arena, home to several of ASU’s NCAA teams including men’s and women’s basketball, has played since 1974. The hockey rink would reportedly be located next to the basketball arena and take space which is currently used for parking and tailgating for ASU football.

ASU currently plays at Oceanside Ice Arena in Tempe, which has a maximum capacity of 800. The on and off again plans for an arena have stymied ASU’s attempts to land a conference home in either the NCHC or the WCHA – their primary suitors. If approved by university senior officials, the Sun Devil facility is likely to be complete for the 2021 – 2022 season.

The Goonsworld Blog suggested the NCHC move cautiously on welcoming Arizona State. While we agree that the NCHC must move with caution, if ASU does, finally, come through with a new 5,000 seat stadium, adding ASU and potentially UNLV,  would be logical additions. This is especially true with the NCHC at the top of the college hockey world when their negotiating power is at its peak. And, there is no guarantee that the NCHC will stay at the top without using this strong position to build the conference for the long-term.

As the old saying goes, “if you are standing still, you are moving backwards.”

Here are the top 5 reasons the NCHC should accept ASU after they complete their new arena:

  • Any fear that ASU would hurt the power rating of the NCHC is unfounded. Just look at what Penn State has done and realize that there are more Division I players available to play college hockey than there are spots on teams. Add a power 5 school with a great campus and new facility – they are not going to have a problem drawing quality coaches and players.
  • There are no guarantees that the NCHC will remain unchanged. At various times there have been rumors of the Big 10 pursuing North Dakota, Colorado College dropping hockey, and Miami leaving the conference. Other members have had financial challenges such as Omaha, Western Michigan and St. Cloud State which have faced athletic department cuts. It quickly becomes clear that things can change quickly in college athletics.  This is no time to be complacent.
  • The hockey landscape is shifting along with the population. The reality is that places like Nashville, Phoenix and Las Vegas have solid demand for hockey. While Ohio, Michigan, North Dakota and Minnesota are traditional hotbeds, the growth is going to come in the west and southeast. The NCHC would be smart to seize the moment and secure a major market(s) while they have the power to do so.

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  • If the concern, longer term, is ASU and/or UNLV leaving the NCHC for Power-5 conferences, build in a substantial penalty for any new entrant that decide to exit the conference. Plus, the reality is that it would be an extremely long time before the Pac-12 would have the resources or desire to add the necessary six teams to form a stand-alone conference.
  • Finally, no offense to Grand Forks, Duluth, or Staughton but many of the current NCHC schools are not exactly located in ideal winter destinations. Adding warm weather sites would create some winter destination trips that, from a Denver standpoint, would get fans on airplanes and in their cars to watch their team on the road. We got a taste of what that was like at the Frozen Four in Tampa. That was fantastic!

Yes, now is the ideal time to work behind the scenes with ASU in any way possible to help them with the design of their new facility, consult with them on hockey operations and provide them with quality road games until their facility is complete. Then, assuming they meet NCHC requirements and complete their new stadium, accept them into the NCHC with open arms.