Notre Dame to Join Big Ten Hockey

In one of the biggest shocks of the college hockey season, Notre Dame has announced that its men’s hockey program will join the Big Ten as an affiliate member starting in the 2017-18 season.

USCHO.com insider Jimmy Connelly first broke the story on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

This is a big victory for the Big Ten, which has seen its sponsorship of hockey come under fire from college hockey traditionalists.

Right off the bat, here is what the Fighting Irish’s move to the Big Ten means for the young hockey conference.

Number of Teams

Adding Notre Dame raises the number of teams in the conference to seven and shows that the administration is looking to aggressively expand the conference. This is key because the Big Ten’s small amount of teams (six) has been criticized as affecting the national standing in the college hockey world. Current coaches have also voiced the need for the conference to expand beyond six teams. With schools like Northwestern and Illinois still nowhere near ready to make a jump to Division I, adding affiliate members is the Big Ten’s best course of action and former Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA)  members in a similar region are primary targets.

Brand

The Notre Dame brand and fan base adds more legitimacy to the Big Ten hockey conference. With traditional powers like Michigan State, Wisconsin and Ohio State still down and Minnesota in a rebuilding phase, the Big Ten needs more solid teams to help carry the load. Notre Dame fits that bill. This season, the Irish finished 3rd in Hockey East with a 19-10-7 overall record. They also made the NCAA tournament this year and will play Michigan in the first round.

Footprint

This moves Big Ten hockey into the Illinois/Indiana region, a perpetual “no man’s land” before. Geographically, it helps “unify” the Big Ten hockey region. While a member of Hockey East, many fans both in South Bend and elsewhere felt that Notre Dame was a weird fit. Indeed, the Big Ten is a better home for Notre Dame hockey and its fans. Bringing in Notre Dame also opens up to possibility of moving the Big Ten Conference tournament to a more permanent home in Chicago.

Rivalries Renewed

Notre Dame and Michigan State have quite a history together. The two schools came into the CCHA together in 1981 along with Michigan, and the three schools maintained a sort of three-way regional rivalry until the CCHA’s breakup in 2013. The fact that the Fighting Irish will be back on the schedule for both the Spartans and Wolverines signals the renewal of pulse-pounding rivalry and another series that fans from both schools can look forward to every year.

Final Thoughts

Adding Notre Dame to the Big Ten as an affiliate member is a great move by the Big Ten and is a step in the right direction for the conference. With the change scheduled to take effect in 2017, that leaves the conference enough time to potentially find an eighth member. Possibilities include newcomer Arizona State (another Power Five institution) or former CCHA members Western Michigan or Miami of Ohio, currently members of the western-oriented National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

No matter what happens, the Fighting Irish are coming back to Munn Ice Arena on a regular basis.