First in a periodic series
When we ran the story on the hockey club team's petition to go D1, the number of views we received was pretty dramatic for a sport not called football or basketball. There were over 750 on the first day of publication - a Saturday, no less - and almost 400 on the second. The petition (click here to get to it) garnered over 2000 signatures in just about a week. Good stuff.
So what's really going on? We talked with the club's assistant coach, and the man behind the #Rmission61, Adriaan Klaasen about the effort to get Rutgers a varsity D1 hockey team.
Hockey, the next revenue sport at Rutgers!
As the story began to be told in our post about the hockey club's petition drive, it is the hope of those involved in the program that ice hockey - whether men and women or at least just the men - can be the next Athletic Department-sponsored sport at RU. The club's assistant coach, Adriaan Klaasen, is spearheading the effort and has dubbed it #Rmission61 in the hope that Rutgers can be the 61st program to become an NCAA varsity team.
"This is what the #Rmission61 refers to in some of our tweets and Facebook posts," he said. "Penn State did the same to become the 59th D1 hockey team a few years back, Arizona State will be number 60." But didn't Rutgers cut programs in 2008? How do we jump the line and go directly to hockey? "With no offense meant towards swimming, tennis, fencing, crew, etc. we feel that adding ice hockey at Rutgers is a completely different discussion from these sports for many, many reasons. However, the bottom line is that just like what has now happened at Penn State, it provides the prospect of adding a third profitable sport at Rutgers." And the athletic administration? "We've made RU Athletics aware of our mission and communicated our opinions and facts/data on why and how this would be a successful and beneficial move for RU.....After football and basketball, the B1G Hockey Conference and its six current programs generated approximately the same amount of total revenue as all the remaining sports in the conference combined, in just its inaugural season of 2013 - 2014. We feel that adding Rutgers to the conference would only increase its revenue numbers, given the unique geographical market we occupy.... Add the fact that the B1G Network is already included on most cable TV packages in the area and the equation adds up to being potentially very valuable for all those involved."
Why hockey, why Rutgers, why now?
When Klaasen started the movement, he needed data to back up what he was selling. "One of my first calls after deciding to undertake this mission was to Mike Snee, Executive Director at College Hockey, Inc. After a long initial phone call, Mike and I have kept in touch and so far he's had any data at his finger tips that I've asked for."
"If you look at the "By State" [data], you will see New Jersey ranked #6 with 52 players currently in D1 (Pennsylvania is tied with 52). Additionally, there are another nine players from New Jersey this year who are instead playing "major junior" hockey in Canada instead of NCAA (compared to 11 last year)." Of those 52, only two were playing in the Big Ten. And to take it a step further, the state's hockey passion has translated to professional careers. "Since the year 2000 there have been 25 players from New Jersey selected in the NHL draft," added the coach.
Hockey exists now at Rutgers as a club team, and has since 1892. It has a more recent, expansive history since 1960. Adriaan Klaasen: "We have a larger budget than all other club sports combined and the top 10-15 teams in ACHA Divison 1 could easily compete with a large number of NCAA D3 teams. As the coach who handles all of our recruiting, I compete with NCAA D3 teams for players on a regular basis. Many of the teams we play against are fully funded and run as varsity programs at their schools, and coaches receive full salaries."
"We now have two teams - one plays ACHA D1, one plays ACHA D2. The D1 team is run as close to an NCAA program as possible, the D2 team is more student run. As for funding, the school provides some (minimal) money and each player pays dues for the season. D1 players pay $2500-$3000, D2 players pay around $2000. Coaches are all completely unpaid. The women's club team operates in similar fashion, though we have little interaction with them these days."
But is there interest in the team, in a collegiate hockey program, at Rutgers? "With the minimal media coverage we receive now as a "club" team, most students are aware of the team but are not nearly as excited about it as they would be for a varsity program playing out of a new arena on campus. With that said, we still find a way to draw at least a few hundred fans to most home games, which are played at a local rink about 10 minutes from campus."
So, it isn't like there is no history and no effort here. But cost and things like Title IX do come into play. In an interview about funding and other issues last month, AD Julie Hermann indicated that money is a continual issue with athletics at Rutgers.
"Sometimes you get to fatten up and get a lot of people power and get a whole boatload of stuff done and sometimes you have to be lean and we're going to have to be lean and smart about everything we do.''
When the athletic director says you need to be lean, how do you justify expanding your array of sports beyond the ones you have, the ones that are already looking for additional funds to compete in the Big Ten? Both Penn State and Arizona State, the two programs to most recently go D1, had substantial benefactors. That isn't happening at Rutgers, at least not now. But what would it cost? Estimates vary, butin a Fox Sports story Arizona State's program, with $32 million in start up donations, gives an idea. "The annual cost of operating the men's ice hockey program is about $2.5 million and will include 18 new scholarships. The private donations will fund the program for the first 10 years. After that, the burden would fall on the university athletic department."
And at Rutgers? "Of course money is the biggest piece of the puzzle," said Klaasen. "At this moment we do not have our own version of [Penn State's] Pegula, but I do have an initial short list of people who I will be reaching out to once the time is right. The hope is that through these initial folks, others they may be able to refer us to, people our many alumni know, etc. that we can find as many people as it may require to raise the amount of private funds needed."
But with the two most recent programs to elevate to D1 operating with major donors as "sugar daddies", doesn't it seem as if that's the requirement? "We don't necessarily need one Terry Pegula as long as we can find what we need," said Klaasen. "The good news is that in addition to Rutgers alumni who may love hockey, there are a lot of wealthy people in the New Jersey hockey community that love the sport, possibly enough to financially support the birth of "New Jersey's college hockey team". Literally every single New Jersey hockey person I have spoken to about this idea agrees that the sport needs this in our state."
Next week: Crew, the oldest sport at Rutgers