Being the first at anything can be a difficult thing to take on. Then again, the challenge can be worth the fight. That seems to be the theory behind the decision made by Tennessee State University to add hockey to its athletics program. The announcement was made prior to the start of the National Hockey Draft back on June 28. It was done at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. The same building that hosts the Nashville Predators of the NHL. What makes this decision unique is that TSU is a member of the HBCU, which of late is making some groundbreaking moves in the world of sports at the college level.
Take for instance the football team, who this fall will begin their season at South Bend taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Some might call this crazy, while others might say it is a bold move that will get this program on a national TV stage to be seen by more people than ever before. Of course, a nice check from Notre Dame will not hurt either. It’s this kind of attitude that has folks talking about what is going on at this school. The university is hoping that adding both men’s and women’s ice hockey to its athletic department will bring diversity, inclusion, and expanding athletic opportunities to the student body. While all of this sounds good and reads well, there are still a lot of moving parts that need to be checked off before this can work.
The first thing is a place to play their games and practice. Since both of these programs will begin as club-level hockey teams, help will be needed to get things off the ground for the 2024 season. The Nashville Predators have been a tremendous help in getting everything started. It started back in February 2020 when they were a major contributor to the school’s “one million in one-month fundraising campaign”. It has continued with donations to the school scholarship programs while providing internships and job opportunities through the TSU Career Development Center. The school will also be receiving help from the NHL Player Association and College Hockey Inc. Back in 2021, they did a feasibility study talking about the importance of bringing college hockey to an HBCU to promote diversity and inclusion in sports.
But there is still the matter of expenses and where these players will be coming from. Hockey is not a cheap sport at any level. Skates, sticks, equipment, and uniforms are just some of the things that the school will need to take care of. Some of these items can and will be handled by sponsorship deals. At this time, the school does not have a director of club hockey operation or a coaching staff for either team. Those positions should be filled during the school year. As far as the players go, the transfer portal will be a likely spot to find players that will help to get this off the ground. The idea of being in on something from the ground floor may very well be too good to pass up. Still, with both squads being club-level only, the players they find will more than likely be ones that have nowhere else to play. Even with that said, the lure of being a part of history even at the club level will be a big selling point.
How long it will take for these programs to become Division I teams is anyone’s guess. The school is not setting a timetable which is smart. The growth of college hockey on both the men’s and women’s sides will get a big boost if this is done right. For now, that should be the top priority giving the student body and the casual fans of the sport something to look forward to and watching this grow into something very special. Time is on the side of Tennessee State University and with the support the school is getting from the NHL and others, it should be time well spent.
- America East ConferenceSeptember 28, 2023America East Baseball News: NJIT has a new home
- America East ConferenceSeptember 27, 2023UMass Lowell Getting Ready for Another Hockey Season
- ACCSeptember 22, 2023Boston College Heads Out on the Road to face Louisville
- ACCSeptember 21, 2023ACC Football News & Notes: The League is Full of 3-0 Teams