SFU hockey eyes NCAA Division I membership

NCAA Division I hockey might come to SFU as early as the 2018–2019 season. Athletics director Theresa Hanson has launched a three- to six-month consultation process that she hopes will lead to a decision from administration by the end of the summer or September 2016.

“DI hockey makes sense on a lot of levels, certainly in our market,” said Hanson in an interview with TSN 1040. “We’re a hockey-crazed country, [but] we have no DI university hockey in our country,” she said, adding that many great student athletes leave Canada to play NCAA Division I in the US.

SFU is the only Canadian university that competes in the NCAA, with 17 teams competing in Division II in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. SFU is allowed two Division I teams, and is exploring the possibilities of men’s hockey and beach volleyball to make the jump. Division I is the most prestigious division in the NCAA, and features the most competitive schools and athletic programs.

SFU men’s hockey has played against NCAA Division I teams in exhibition and has games with said teams scheduled for next season as well. Two years ago, the team played against NCAA Division I champions, North Dakota, a game they lost 4–3.

“It could be a game changer.”

Men’s hockey currently competes in the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League against UVic, Selkirk College, Trinity Western, and Eastern Washington.

Moving to NCAA Division I would be good for SFU, Burnaby, the province, and the country, said head coach Mark Coletta to CKNW 980.

Former Executive VP Business for the Vancouver Canucks, Jon Festinger, told The Province that SFU Division I hockey would engage audiences on local, regional, and national markets.

It’s “a game changer” said Hanson, due to the uniqueness in the hockey market and the story associated with it. Imagine, the only NCAA school in Canada, offering Division I hockey for Canadian-born athletes to play while receiving the world-class education SFU has to offer, Hanson explained.

In the most recent Frozen Four NCAA national championship 10 BC-born players were on the North Dakota, Quinnipiac, and Denver teams. In addition, Canucks first-round pick Brock Boeser played for North Dakota in the national championship; goalie Thatcher Demko, another Canucks prospect, played for Boston College in the semifinal.

“Sustainability is the biggest thing,” said Coletta. He noted that while the move would be years away, stakeholders must look “50 years down the road.” Coletta also argued that the consultation process will help the school decide whether to move forward.

There are some significant challenges that the consultation must address, the most prominent being the venue. SFU does not have a rink, and therefore external rinks must be looked at, such as the Pacific Coliseum.

Other factors include conference affiliation, travel, equipment, revenue streams, and number of student athletes on scholarships.

SFU’s scholarship fund currently sits at $11.5 million. Hanson aims to increase the funding to $20 million.

Joining Division 1 could mean SFU could compete on an even larger scale, but at this point it’s too early to tell if SFU could sustain an NCAA Division I team.

SFU has contemplated one in the past, but with the consultation process now in place, it shows this time around there is a serious intention of pursuing the distinction.

“It’s a lofty goal, but I think it’s doable,” said Hanson.