As the growth of college hockey continues, you never know where the next Division I team may pop up. Just in the past few years, programs have sprouted at Arizona State University and Long Island University, with new additions coming soon at Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas and Missouri’s Lindenwood University and conversations being had the University of Illinois and the U.S. Naval Academy as well. However, the latest school to enter the scene is still quite a surprise.
According to Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News, Tennessee State University is “considering a feasibility study in bringing hockey to campus.” A historically black university, HBCU for short, located south of the Mason-Dixon line, at first it may not seem like Tennessee State would be a fit for NCAA hockey. However, Tennessee State is located within Nashville city limits, and the home of the Predators has become quite the hockey city in recent years. With the game growing in geography and diversity in the United States, Tennessee State may actually be perfectly situated to take advantage of the avid hockey culture that has developed in Nashville in order to recruit some non-traditional, but talented prospects.
A similar logic led to Lindenwood’s move to Division I. The longtime ACHA powerhouse is located in St. Louis, which itself transformed into a major hockey city over the past few decades and began producing incredible homegrown talent, many of whom were the children of former St. Louis Blues. Tennessee State may see the grassroots hockey scene in Nashville booming and is looking to get into the mix sooner rather than later, possibly even forming a similar connection to the Predators. Lindenwood will also serve as a natural rival, both in geography and experience, while Alabama-Huntsville, the original southern hockey school, will be its closest competitor. Kennedy notes that Miami-Ohio will also be a similar distance to Tennessee State as Lindenwood is.
While the Tigers are still a ways away from confirming the formation of a Division I hockey program — Illinois has proved how long these “studies” can take — the prospect of college hockey continue to expand into new corners of the U.S. and further spreading the reach of the game is exciting. As is the potential impact that it could have on the diversity of the game. There is plenty to like about the addition of Tennessee State to the NCAA hockey ranks down the road.