It’s a complicated, years-long process, but if recent history tells us anything, it is time to start talking about NC State hockey becoming a varsity sport.
On Monday night, the NC State club men’s hockey team, better known as the Icepack, defeated UNC-Chapel Hill at PNC Arena 8-6. In a game where North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, dropped the ceremonial first puck in front of a crowd of around 5,000 people, NC State showcased why it's time to take the next step for college hockey.
The enthusiasm inside the arena and the number of people present would be only second to basketball, football, and baseball in terms of attendance. In my opinion, if the Icepack was a Division I sport, it could compete revenue-wise in ticket sales, and television money with sports such as softball and soccer.
The Icepack, which went 28-2 and advanced to the National tournament in Texas last season, and the Carolina Hurricanes professional hockey team put the state of North Carolina in a hockey frenzy. The Hurricanes came out of nowhere in the middle of the season and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. PNC Arena, home of the Hurricanes, was packed every game down the stretch and in the playoffs. With the success of the Icepack and the Hurricanes, Raleigh became a hockey town.
One of the things that, unfortunately, the Icepack has to deal with being a club sport, is that it either has to fundraise or pay for its equipment, travel, and ice time for practices and games. Despite the occasional game at PNC Arena against UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State practices and plays at the Iceplex in Raleigh. While an exact price on how much it cost to reserve the ice isn't listed on the website, it can be inferred that the team of 28 players and three coaches spend a bunch of money just to be able to prepare for its games.
Last year to help fund its trip to the national tournament, the Icepack utilized the app GoFundMe, which is an app that allows a person or group to raise money for a specific cause. Because the IcePack is a club sport, it gets no money from the athletic department. Considering the success of the Icepack, it is a shame that this team can only go so far with how much money its players can give or how much money it can get donated.
In August before every school year, the Icepack has tryouts for the upcoming season. Therefore, there is no recruiting because of it being a club sport. If NC State was to go Division I, it would be able to have full-time coaches, and have the funding to go out and recruit players all around the country.
One of the questions one might ask if the Icepack was to become a Division I NCAA sport would be, what conference would it play in? NC State currently plays in the club hockey ACCHL conference, which has some traditional ACC schools such as UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and Virginia in it, but it also has other schools in the conference such as James Madison, UNC-Charlotte, and West Virginia.
A solution to this would be to either be independent, such as Arizona State’s hockey team is, or to join a northeastern conference such as the Hockey East conference that has schools such as Boston College and UConn in it.
Even though NC State has lots of money in its deal with the ACC, there could still be room for a separate varsity sport to be in another conference. The South Carolina men’s soccer team is a prime example of this by playing in Conference USA since the SEC does not have a men’s soccer conference.
NC State has continued to prove that it has the best collegiate hockey team in the state with wins over Duke, East Carolina, Wake Forest and UNC-Chapel Hill. If the Icepack was to make a leap forward and become Division I, it would provide a path for other local colleges to do the same thing and more importantly, grow the game in North Carolina.
Something that is important to mention regarding the addition of men’s hockey to NC State’s list of Division I sports is Title IX. According to the NCAA website, the law states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
Currently, NC State offers 11 men’s and 11 women’s Division I athletic programs. With the addition of men’s hockey that would make 12, it would call for the addition of another women's athletic program, such as lacrosse or field hockey. The other option would be to eliminate a current men’s varsity sport.
New NC State Director of Athletics Boo Corrigan, who came from West Point Military Academy, has experience in terms of adding new athletic programs. In his time at West Point, Corrigan added two varsity Division I sports for the Black Knights.
It's clear the students, the fans and the players would support it. Whether or not Corrigan and his Athletic Department staff will consider it, or if it is feasible, remains to be seen. If Corrigan wants to make a splash and start his legacy as the replacement of former NC State Director of Athletics Debbie Yow, pushing for men’s hockey to become a varsity sport would be a great way to get that started.
Obviously, the scope of this commentary is oversimplifying the topic as adding a varsity sport is not something to consider lightly, but there is a long-term conversation worth having with the success of the Icepack.