CHICAGO (June 23, 2017) – The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) announced today they will partner with the University of Illinois to evaluate the possible addition of hockey as a varsity sport. In an effort to support the growth of collegiate hockey, the NHLPA and NHL will fund feasibility studies exploring the potential of adding NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey programs at five institutions across the United States. Illinois is the first university to participate in the study.
The announcement was made at a joint press conference prior to the NHL Draft™ presented by adidas in Chicago. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director Mathieu Schneider, Chicago Blackhawks President and CEO John McDonough, Illinois Director of Athletics Josh Whitman, Buffalo Sabres Owner and Alumnus of Penn State University Terry Pegula and USA Hockey Executive Director Pat Kelleher spoke at the press conference.
“Where high-level hockey is established, youth hockey interest and participation often follows,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “By expanding the footprint of elite hockey at all levels, we can inspire new players and parents to join the hockey family. By working to add programs at the Division I level, we hope to grow the game of hockey, both on and off the ice.”
“Today's announcement is a direct result of the Industry Growth Fund, which is a very important aspect of the CBA to the players,” said Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director. “Along with the Learn to Play program, this initiative encouraging the expansion of college hockey, both men's and women's, is part of a much bigger picture focused on the continued growth of hockey in North America.”
This feasibility study will analyze the many factors necessary for Illinois to start and maintain a hockey program, including, but not limited to, one-time and annual expenses, funding opportunities, facility needs, and community support. The study will be funded by the Industry Growth Fund, which is a joint venture by the NHL and NHLPA created to help grow the game of hockey and enhance fan experience. All studies will be performed by Collegiate Consulting, Inc. No deadline has been set for completion of the study.
Establishing new NCAA programs creates opportunities for more young hockey players to play and develop at a high level. In addition, new programs will create new job opportunities for coaches, hockey operations staff, trainers and media. Furthermore, the presence of an NCAA hockey program ensures that youth hockey programs in the local area will have improved access to facilities, equipment, and role models as the NHL and NHLPA work to grow youth hockey around the country.
College hockey’s contributions to the NHL talent pool have steadily grown; in 2000, 210 former college players appeared in the NHL (making up 22% of all players). In 2016-17, NCAA hockey produced a record 314 NHL players (comprising 32% of the League). The 2016-17 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins featured the most former NCAA players of any team in NHL history, with 15 appearing in the Stanley Cup Final series.
More information on the NCAA Feasibility Study will be released as it becomes available.