Penn State has been an early D1 success (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times/MCT via Getty Images)
The Scarlet Knights would be the only scholarship team in New Jersey, a state that has produced many elite hockey players recently. And if a current petition succeeds, Rutgers will join the big boys of NCAA hockey.
There's a petition circulating around the Internet to get Div. I men's hockey at Rutgers University in New Jersey, and it's not hard to buy into what the Scarlet Knights boosters are selling.
Right now, there is only one school playing D1 hockey in the state and it's Princeton – an Ivy League institution that does not give out athletic scholarships. Meanwhile, the state has a solid high school system, several well-regarded junior programs (the Rockets and Avalanche jump to mind) and more than 3,000 registered players between the ages of 16 and 18, according to USA Hockey's latest stats.
And that's just in New Jersey. According to College Hockey Inc., the province of Ontario is one of the biggest providers of NCAA talent already and another East Coast school would be attractive to potential recruits. Plus, there's no reason the Knights couldn't poach players from New York, Pennsylvania or even under-served Southern states like Florida or Texas.
Plus, Rutgers is part of the Big Ten conference, which has its own cable TV station and a huge national following. Penn State helped the Big Ten get a foothold in hockey when the Nittany Lions started up their program recently and that school has been tremendously successful in a short span of time. Would Rutgers be another domino that would entice schools such as Northwestern (Illinois, incredibly, does not have D1 hockey right now) and Nebraska to follow suit?
Even if the Scarlet Knights don't inspire other Big Ten schools to ice teams, Rutgers would be a great addition. Would having a seven-team conference be weird? I don't think so; you still have a six-team conference playoff tournament, with the worst missing out.
Are there barriers to Rutgers hockey going D1? Sure. But there are also solutions.
Money is the most obvious and as we saw with Penn State and Arizona State, finding donors with fat stacks behind them is key. Fortunately for Rutgers, the school has churned out a lot of very successful business folks over the years. If the CEO of Ford Motors or Motorola happens to like hockey, for example, then we're good to go.
That may be a big "if," but as we saw with Arizona State, all it took was for someone to ask the question about D1 hockey and the ball got rolling.
Rutgers would also have to fulfill the Title IX requirements for equal scholarship opportunities, but simply adding women's hockey at the same time would do the trick. And the women's Scarlet Knights would have a lot of nearby opponents, with Princeton, Syracuse and Cornell all within a few hours drive.
USA Hockey hit a record for registered players this season with more than 533,000 nationwide. I've always stumped for an increase in D1 college teams because that means more opportunities for players and more scholarships.
Rutgers has a chance to be a big-name school in a big-name conference right off the hop, with a huge grassroots population to draw from.
If the will is there, this one would be a sure-fire winner.