What A New NCAA President Can Mean For College Hockey

NCAA Hockey, Boston College. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
NCAA Hockey, Boston College. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /

If you follow college sports, you know that current NCAA president Mark Emmert is stepping down this coming March. You probably weren’t expecting current, but soon-to-be-outgoing, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker to be named their new president.

The NCAA is in the midst of a lot of changes. In addition to new NIL regulations (the ones that allow student-athletes to earn endorsements), there are new television contracts to negotiate, regulatory affairs to take care of, and the NCAA’s previously announced “Division I Transformation Committee” committee.

What does this mean for American college hockey?

In terms of non-NHL, nonprofessional hockey, Canadian major junior leagues always get the lion’s share of attention as opposed to the NCAA. That’s understandable, as most draft-eligible players are in those leagues and not at an NCAA school.

College hockey also remains a regional draw and pales in comparison to other college sports such as basketball and football.

For example, the chairman of TurnkeyZRG, Len Purna, assisted the NCAA with the search for their next president and listed one of the qualifications as “could dunk a basketball”, and I don’t think they were kidding.

A new president is soon to take over the NCAA.

With college hockey as a regional draw, the hiring of Baker raises an interesting thought.

Massachusetts is one of the hottest markets for college hockey. The “Bean Pot”, the tournament between all four college hockey teams in the Boston area, is one of the sport’s most storied traditions.

Baker had a front-row seat to the love of college hockey as governor of Massachusetts, but it’s worth noting he was a basketball player and not a hockey player at Harvard.

Out of the previous eight NCAA presidents, including interim, only two even had a brief stop at a school with a Division I ice hockey program in their administrative careers.

Current president Mark Emmert held a non-athletics-based position at the University of Connecticut from 1995-1999. Former President Dick Schultz spent 1976-1981 as Cornell’s athletic director.

As for NIL deals, college hockey is expected to remain a small player. College Hockey News published a fantastic article last year about the relative uncertainty of how college hockey would play out in the NIL marketplace.

An assistant professor at Oklahoma State University predicted small, regional-based deals. Dunkin’ recently signed 23 student-athletes, including men’s and women’s ice hockey players, in something that has to make Charlie Baker’s Beantown heart proud.

Minnesota-Duluth athletic director Josh Berlo explained that he already saw players at his school engage in NIL deals, and the female hockey players were out-earning their male counterparts.

That’s an interesting trend I dug into a little deeper. Other female college athletes in other sports are making news for doing the same (ever heard of Olivia Dunne?).

The Bio-Steel sports nutrition company just announced a partnership with four women’s college hockey players in November.

Last summer, the Florida Panthers announced a plan to team up with South Florida college athletes on NIL deals and specifically mentioned how they wanted to include female athletes.

Last year, women’s ice hockey ranked top ten in NIL deals with 1.2% of total compensation when measured by sport. Men’s hockey didn’t even make the list.

The NCAA’s media rights deal with ESPN expires in August of 2024. There’s been talk women’s basketball might try to earn their own separate deal instead of the NCAA selling all their sports as one big package, but can the same apply for hockey?

Anyone who watches NHL hockey knows some sports channels pay more attention and care to hockey than others. Maybe while some companies fight over the rights to NCAA football and basketball another company can work out a deal for hockey and focus their attention on that.

Then again, with current rights holder ESPN recently signing a large broadcasting deal with the NHL, maybe they’ll invest in college hockey as well.

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College sports are at a crossroads, and the news of Baker’s hire can be a seismic shift in the way things are done. The NCAA wants to improve its product, add some clarity to the vast expansion of NIL deals, and find a way to keep earning those television revenue dollars. Let’s hope that things change for the better for college hockey.