When I had time this weekend, I was able to check out some ACHA hockey between Stevenson University and Liberty University at Liberty’s rink in Lynchburg, Virginia. The rink they had, the production they had, and the support the teams have are amazing. It makes you think that if their close to 4,000-seat arena would be suited to make a jump to the NCAA level– most likely on the D1 stage.
A bit of history on Liberty’s club team– they started in 1985 and actually house five club teams, the only school in the ACHA to do so. They have a D1, D2, and D3 men’s team, while they also have D1 and D2 teams for the women’s side. All five teams have winning records this season, with the D1 and D2 men being ranked in the top-six, while both women’s teams are ranked 1st in the nation, with the D1 side being back-to-back National Champions. While it is club hockey, those numbers shouldn’t be one to scoff at regardless of the level of play.
The school is very well funded. With an endowment of $1.43B– which ranks in the top 100 of universities in North America, there’s plenty of money to be able bring their men’s D1 and women’s D1 to the big stage of the NCAA hockey and be somewhat successful. One of the big hiccups would be trying to get top recruits to get accepted to the school, as well as having them be able to adhere to the code that the school has for its students, much akin to what Brigham Young University has.
Of course, the biggest question is where they would play at, as Lynchburg isn’t all that close to many places that already play. Robert Morris and Penn State would probably be the closest rivals. You’d have to think that with the Alaska teams in trouble and the WCHA apparently falling apart in slow motion, it’d be perfect for Atlantic Hockey to pick up Liberty and maybe even Alabama-Huntsville. That’s if they want to take that risk and move their footprint down the coast and over to the South. That said, friggin’ Air Force is in Atlantic Hockey, so why wouldn’t they want to take the chance?? Not only that, but Liberty would fit right in, as nine of the 11 teams in the conference are private schools.
On the women’s side, they’d probably be able to slide into College Hockey America, with Penn State and Robert Morris being the closest rivals, as well as having Lindenwood University in Missouri being a little outlier for them. Since it is a women’s only conference– it would be a good fit for the Lady Flames to side into should they want to make the jump.
It would be another step for club teams to move up to D1, with Penn State and Arizona State making those jumps in the last decade. It’s a school that would draw a lot of eyes from an area that NCAA hockey doesn’t have a foothold in already, while also maybe counteracting things that could happen should teams have to fold into itself due to budget cuts.
The money is there, the groundwork for success is there, the arena is there– all it needs is to actually make the jump and move forward with it. Might it be an odd choice to take a team from Southwest Central Virginia into the D1 fold?? Sure, as purist would call it a non-traditional market. Yet, at the same time– the exposure top-tier college hockey to that area could create more youth hockey players in the area who want to aspire to play that level, thus helping the future crop grow for the rest of the NCAA.