View From Section U: Does Big-Time Football Equal Big-Time Hockey?

So of course all the talk around the UMass community right now centers on the potential upgrade of the football program to the MAC and the Bowl Subdivision.  Most people agree, myself included, that such a move is not only to the benefit of the football team but for the school’s athletic programs as a whole, as football can be the flagship program in terms of revenue and recognition.  That got me wondering about how schools with different levels of football fare in terms of their hockey programs.  There’s already much evidence suggesting that only schools from the big football conferences tend to end up in the Final Four in basketball.  The few exceptions include teams like Butler, George Mason, and of course UMass.  But do we see that same trend in hockey?  Let’s take a look.

First off, some ground rules.  I looked at the NCAA hockey tournament participants of the last 20 years.  Why 20?  Well as someone who crunches numbers all day for a living, that’s usually the minimum number of data sets I like to include for a good analysis.  This also will cover all the years of the modern era of UMass hockey plus some.  Secondly, remember that in 2003 the number of teams invited to the tourney increased from 12 to 16.  That means that in those 20 years a total of 272 spots were available to teams to make the tournament field.  Third, the level of football for schools has not remained static in that time.  Schools like BU have dropped football while others like North Dakota have switched levels.  Not to mention some schools have unfortunately dropped hockey.  But keep that in mind since numbers are compared to the current status.  Lastly, it’s interesting to note that most of the hockey conferences run the full gamut of football programs.  Hockey East has BC in a BCS conference and Northeastern which no longer has football.  The WCHA has Big Ten teams and some without football at all.  Even Atlantic Hockey goes from UConn (which amazingly may go to a BCS bowl this season) to AIC whose campus covers about two city blocks.  The ECAC is the only conference that isn’t as diverse, with most of its schools playing football at the FCS/I-AA level.

So here are the results.  I basically categorized schools into four groups: BCS conferences, Non-BCS FBS/I-A schools, FCS/I-AA schools, and schools that don’t play DI football.   I also did subtotals of schools that play on the bowl level and those who do not.  And for the record I counted Notre Dame as a BCS school even though they haven’t looked like one in quite some time.

      Last 20 Years   Last 10 Years
  Current Makeup   NCAA App. Frozen Fours Champs   NCAA App. Frozen Fours Champs
BCS 14%   32% 41% 45%   31% 45% 70%
FBS (I-A) 9%   5% 3% 0%   6% 5% 0%
FCS (I-AA) 22%   25% 28% 20%   29% 30% 0%
None/DII/DIII 55%   38% 29% 35%   34% 20% 30%
Bowl Football 22%   36% 44% 45%   37% 50% 70%
Non-Bowl Football 78%   64% 56% 55%   63% 50% 30%


The first column is the current makeup of the 58 schools currently playing DI hockey, with 14% in BCS conferences, 9% in non-BCS FBS/I-A conferences, 22% in FCS/I-AA, and 55% playing below DI or not at all.  There appears to be a definitive advantage to being a school in a BCS conference playing hockey.  Despite only representing 14% of the number of schools playing hockey, these programs account for 32% of the NCAA appearances, 41% of the Frozen Four slots, and close to half of the national champions in the past 20 years.  Look at the last 10 years and BCS schools account for a greater percentage of the Frozen Four participants and 7 of the hockey champions.

If you look at schools that play bowl football as a whole they still make up a greater portion of NCAA appearances than their overall representation, 22% to 36%.  This number is about the same if you look at just the last 10 years, 22% to 37%.  It certainly appears that if your school has big time football your hockey team has a better chance of getting into the NCAA tournament.

I’m willing to overlook the BCS data, especially in terms of championships, because that’s heavily influenced by a number of programs which are traditional hockey powers that have had multiple championships over this time, specifically Boston College, Minnesota, and Michigan.  But I think the appearance data does show that if your school plays bowl football you have a much better chance at making the hockey tournament.  Now there could be a lot of reasons for this.  First off is resources.  If your football team is making money, or at the very least giving you a higher profile to raise money, then it will help all your athletic programs.  Miami is a school playing bowl football without a big hockey tradition that has seen an uptick in appearances, overall and Frozen Four, and just built a state of the art hockey facility.  Notre Dame’s resources gained through its football program (and its overwhelming TV contract) has allowed it to do the same.  You also have the fact that schools playing bowl football tend to be higher profile and resonate more in young recruits’ minds.  These schools also tend to be larger, offering a more traditional big college environment and a diverse academic opportunity which helps in landing players.

Now being an elite football school doesn’t guarantee success.  Just look at Ohio State which seems to have a ton of resources, a huge facility for games, but has struggled to establish itself as a force within the CCHA.  UConn is another school that comes to mind that has been able to move up and have success on the football field but continues to wallow at the bottom of one of the lower hockey conferences.  But for the most part hockey, despite having so many non-DI schools playing DI, seems to follow the mantra that football helps drive the success of a university’s program as a whole, just as we see in sports like baseball and basketball.  That’s something to keep in mind in the coming weeks and months as UMass’ football fate is decided and what that may mean for the boys on the ice.  I can’t see how a bigger, better UMass football program can possibly hurt the hockey program and maybe it’ll help give it a little push into that next level of sustained success we’ve been hoping for.


Congratulations to Mike Pereira, Hockey East’s Rookie of the Month.  Considering all the high profile freshmen in the conference this year, all the guys who had their names called in June at the draft, that’s quite an accomplishment.


If you’re on Facebook make sure to become a fan of Fear The Triangle.  Starting tomorrow I’ll be doing semi-regular trivia contests with prizes and everything.


So let me get this straight, a college athlete whose dad shops him around to the highest bidder is allowed to keep playing but a smart kid, from Air Force no less,  who is able to take junior college classes at 17 goes against the spirit of what a student athlete should be and is declared ineligible by the NCAA?  Are you f-ing kidding me?!?  Sometimes I feel dirty just sitting and watching the product put out by the NCAA NC$$.

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  1. Jason W

     /  December 3, 2010

    It would be great to have football move up to 1-a (I will never recognize FBS!).

    The biggest thing overall is the monetary support. Is the administration ready to make the investment needed over the next 10-20 years to make us a national name? Or do they just want to kinda upgrade and play mediocre-level D1A? If thats all it will be for the long run, no thanks. The administration has to decide if its finally ready to do what it takes to move the entire university forward. Academics and Sports can go hand-in-hand. Both will help the university grow in recognition. Both require a huge investment. It seems at times the administration likes to dip their toes in the water a little here and there, but never ready to make the real plunge into being a big-time University. UMass should own Massachusetts AND New England. Without dedication and support from the administration, government, alumni and students we’ll never get there.

    I would love D1a. I’ve wanted it since I first stepped on campus in 1993. But I only want it if they are willing to make the commitment to being a top-notch sports program.


    • Personally, with FCS football disintergrating in the Northeast, I think the choice is really move up to the MAC or go the URI route and downgrade or even dissolve the program altogether. But I think McCutcheon realizes this and has a plan to be successful with the jump to the MAC and do what’s possible to position the program for a look from the Big East.


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