Tonight, the Wisconsin Badgers Men's Hockey team opens up B1G Ten conference play at Michigan. When it was first announced, B1G Ten hockey sounded like a sure-fire winner. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan have all won national championships. Michigan State had a strong tradition and Ohio State and Penn State certainly have the resources to be good programs. Illinois and Iowa are also expected to move their programs to scholarship status sometime in the future to make it an 8-team league (yes, there is not a sport where ten teams actually compete in the B1G Ten). But entering its third year, the B1G Ten is at risk of becoming an unmitigated disaster--and the weakest league in the country.
I was among those who thought B1G Ten hockey would be great. Long-time rivals in other sports bringing that same passion to the ice after being split into separate conferences for decades. No more league trips to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denver or Colorado Springs. No more games at dinky rinks in Mankato, Duluth, Houghton, Marquette, Sault Ste Marie or Big Rapids. High profile schools playing other high profile schools with national exposure on the B1G Ten Network as an added bonus.
But after a good start--with Wisconsin and Minnesota both getting number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament in the first year of B1G Ten hockey--there has been a precipitous drop-off in the quality of play. Last year, Minnesota was the only B1G school to even make the NCAA"s--and they got smoked in the first round. And for the 3rd year in a row, the conference had a losing record in non-conference play. Wisconsin managed to win two games against Arizona State (yes, they actually have a Division I hockey program) and what is looking like a miracle victory against then-Number One in the nation North Dakota on the road.
Unlike the centuries-old traditions of football and basketball, the B1G Ten carries no "cache" with top hockey recruits. It turns out that a lot of kids in the fertile recruiting grounds of Minnesota like being able to play every year in Duluth, Mankato, St Cloud and Bimidji. Kids from the plains of Canada don't mind Grand Forks, North Dakota as compared to Columbus, Ohio. And the Western Ontario players are comfortable at Sault Ste Marie and Marquette. And since B1G Ten schools don't travel there on a regular basis--that exposure to potential recruits has been lost.
Based on the results we are seeing so far--and the projections for the near future--B1G Ten hockey may turn out to be a major failure. Proof that B1Gger doesn't always mean better.