The Yale men’s hockey team won their first National Title last night, knocking off the Quinnipiac Bobcats by a final of 4-0.
The game ended a season of good television exposure for college hockey. NBC Sports aired a fair amount of college hockey as a response to the NHL lockout and CBS Sports aired a few games too.
The fact remains, however, that college hockey is much closer to college baseball than college football or basketball when it comes to popularity. Four NCAA Tourney games this season were not available live on television (I kid you not). And all the games before the Frozen Four that were on TV were on ESPNU.
The good news for college hockey and its fans is that there are reasons to believe that the sport could be on the rise.
One of college hockey’s biggest problems is simply that there are not very many teams. There are 59 Division I college hockey programs and when you compare that to the 347 Division I college basketball teams, you can see right off the bat one reason why there are more college basketball fans. But the number of D1 college hockey programs may see a rise in the near future. Yahoo Sports’ NHL blog, Puck Daddy, featured an interesting post on Wednesday that made the case that the swift rise of success for Quinnipiac’s hockey team could offer inspiration for other colleges to support a Division I program. More teams would certainly help college hockey’s popularity, if only very slightly.
The most obvious problem with college hockey in terms of popularity, however, is the lack of exposure. Even this season, college hockey was rarely on television. Heck, there is not even a college hockey section on ESPN.com (ESPN does have sections for such hugely popular spectator sports as mixed martial arts, poker, women’s basketball, cricket, and lacrosse). The reason for this is not so much an anti-hockey bias as a lack of interest. If college hockey games got great ratings, ESPN would start showing them.
The good news: TV exposure could get better for college hockey. With new sports channels sprouting up such as Fox Sports 1, sports that translate well to television will be in high demand. Sports channels may need to resort to college hockey for live entertainment in the winter as, at the very least, supplementary content. It is no stretch to envision that either Fox Sports1, CBS Sports Network, or NBC Sports Network will begin to cover college hockey more frequently.
I am no fortune teller, college Athletic Director, or television executive, but I do see signs of hope for college hockey.
In the meantime we can enjoy college hockey for what is–an undervalued sport with great pageantry, traditions, and passionate fans.