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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona hockey should be raised to varsity status

The school year is only about half over, but so far it is one of the best in Arizona’s athletic history.

The football team finished the regular season in the top 10, the volleyball team earned the No. 11 seed in the NCAA tournament, the soccer team returned to the big dance and won its third NCAA game all-time and the men’s basketball team is ranked No. 3.

Plus, UA baseball recently moved to a better ballpark, Arizona Stadium got an outstanding new addition, sand volleyball was added as an official sport and McKale Center is undergoing extensive renovations.

There’s not much room for things to get better, right?

Wrong.

With Arizona’s athletics at an all-time high, the time is right to elevate hockey to varsity status. The club team has developed quite a following, now it’s time to move the sport up.

The impetus for this, of course, is ASU making hockey a varsity sport last month. Certainly ASU is not the best school to copy, but the Sun Devils adding hockey opens a lot of possibilities.

By itself, ASU promoting hockey doesn’t make much sense. There’s an NHL team there, there’s no NCAA teams nearby, the team doesn’t have a clear place to play, it isn’t well supported and neither are ASU’s other teams, with reduced capacity at Sun Devil Stadium and Wells Fargo Arena.

However, those factors don’t apply to the UA. There’s not even a minor league hockey team here, there’s now an NCAA team down the road and the varsity Wildcats could play in the Tucson Convention Center where they would get solid support without much local media coverage.

In fact, Pac-12 Conference commissioner Larry Scott wants to see future expansion in the Pac-12. Friday night hockey would be a lot more popular, even in the less traditional hockey locales of the west coast, than women’s basketball on the Pac-12 Network.

Of course, there is the money issue. ASU added hockey with massive donations, but Arizona is in much better financial shape than ASU. Things are so bad at ASU that they charge students a fee to support the athletics program.

UA hockey currently gets crowds of 1,264 people for games against teams like Liberty. If it moved to varsity, local media besides the Daily Wildcat would cover them and those crowds would increase.

The biggest problem with adding hockey is in men’s NCAA hockey. Other than the two Alaska teams and three in Colorado, Minnesota is considered west. If Arizona joined ASU, Colorado and Utah would be more inclined to add varsity teams.

NAU would be compelled to bring back its varsity team. If that happens, suddenly, there’s eight hockey teams in the four corner states and travel doesn’t seem so insane.
Athletic director Greg Byrne told House of Sparky last month that “Hockey is not on the radar screen for the University of Arizona.”

ASU got the ball — or puck — rolling; Arizona should return the favor and continue the evolution of college hockey.

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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