College Hockey: The Ugly Duckling of American College Sports?


College Hockey: The Ugly Duckling of American College Sports?

The United States has seen an endless influx of talent in most of its sports. Professional athletes are signed by MLS teams from overseas - one of the most famous of these was English soccer star David Beckham, who played for five years with LA Galaxy - and the NBA also sees many internationals among its athletes. Students are coming from all over the world - especially from Europe and Canada - to continue their career at US colleges with the goal of breaking into the world of sports in the process. To see just how important this influx of talent is for US sports, here are some of theworld’s leading sports athletes that you might not know were actually born and bred in Canada.

The same is true for college hockey. According to a recent article in the New York Times, never have colleges produced so many players ready to compete in the NCAA Division I. The number of players has increased significantly over the years - this, unfortunately, can't be said about the spots available in Division I ice hockey programs. This has turned this sport, as author Gary Santaniello writes, a 'game of musical chairs'. Or, as longtime Air Force coach Frank Serratore put it, "there are more Division I-quality players than lockers available".

The article points out how much more love other college sports have received over the years. The number of college lacrosse programs increased from 54 to 69 since 2003. There are now 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams instead of 117. Basketball has grown the most, from 20 to 346 programs. Hockey, in turn, is stuck at 60 Division I teams, which - with 18 full scholarships and around 24 players each - only means around 1400 spots to be filled by the ever-increasing number of great athletes.

According to USA Hockey, the governing body for organized Ice hockey in the United States, the number of registered ice hockey players has grown by 125% between 1991 and 2001, and by further 24% between 2001 and 2016, to a total of over 540,000. More college teams are now scouting for overseas talent than ever - College Hockey Inc.'s numbers show that 82 European athletes played in Division I last season, growing from just 32 five years ago.

The talent that doesn't find its place in Division I has no other path than trickle down to Division III. American International College Coach Eric Lang pointed out that there are "about 40 to 50 players" playing in D-III that are fit for D-I. Mike Hastings from Minnesota State puts it best: "In football, baseball and basketball, you don’t see the No. 1, 2 or 3 teams beaten by somebody in the bottom half. That happens every weekend in our sport."

An explosion of programs similar to that in other college sports will likely not happen in the short term because of money. Scholarships, arenas cost a lot, and with no source to fund them, there's no way for the number of programs to grow significantly - and teams will have to settle for a growth in the number of players.