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ASU Hockey: Athletic Director Ray Anderson discusses chances of NCAA move

Arizona State Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson said he would like to see Sun Devil hockey become an NCAA Division I program.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Count Arizona State Vice President of Athletics Ray Anderson among the growing number of people who like to see the Sun Devil hockey team compete at the highest level.

"I personally would love to see hockey as a varsity sport at Arizona State," he said. "We have to make a commitment to figure that out."

He also said the same about other club sports that he would like to see gain NCAA status, including men and women's lacrosse, men's gymnastics, men's tennis and men's soccer. Arizona State hockey currently competes in the ACHA, not the NCAA.

"Men's hockey here is just one of the real key examples of why a university this size really needs to work hard at raising the financial wherewithal to be able support a varsity hockey team," Anderson said. "Then figure out a way for Title IX to then provide another gender sport so that you can do both."

Title IX, said simply, is the law that states that both genders at schools must be equally financed. Football gives out 85 scholarships, and because there is no women's football team, those 85 scholarships must be made up somewhere. Gymnastics, tennis, water polo, soccer, volleyball and sand volleyball are women's school-sponsored sports that are not offered to men (softball is not offered to men, but baseball is not offered to women, so they balance out).

The common idea is that money and Title IX stand between Arizona State hockey and NCAA status. Anderson said Title IX is less of an issue, and responded to a hypothetical situation in which a donor offered to pay whatever it would take to make hockey NCAA.

"We would do everything possible to expedite that with the NCAA," Anderson said. "If that meant ... we had to expand on a women's sport, we would make every effort.

"If the financial support is there, you can go field teams and satisfy Title IX equity. I believe that very firmly."

Arizona State is the largest public university in the nation, and Anderson said when he arrived, he was surprised to learn that Arizona State does not have certain sports that he expected it to have, particularly men's gymnastics, tennis and soccer.

"I think a university of this size ... should be able to compete in any and every varsity sport that anybody else wants to compete in," Anderson said. "It's just a matter of figuring a way, financially and (while satisfying) gender equity, how you do that.

"My personal goal, and I've stated this, is to be able to do that. You're the largest public university in the country, and you can't compete in all the sports that Stanford and Ohio State and others compete in, I think personally, that is a disservice to the student body, and to our community of folks who have affinity for athletics."

Anderson shared the statistic that Arizona State has 190,000 alumni within a 20-minute drive from campus. He said he believes that within that, and other alumni nationally and internationally, there exists the financial backing to support all the varsity sports he would like to see.

Anderson also brought up the point that having fewer NCAA sports could also cause would-be students to go elsewhere so they can play their sport. There are 164 Arizona high schools that provide men's soccer. Arizona State does not. So Arizona soccer players are forced to choose a different school (the University of Arizona also does not have men's soccer).

He said that Arizona State has a large number of international students, and that could dissuade a foreign student from coming to Arizona State if he or she could not play their sport, like rugby or lacrosse or triathlon.

Or hockey? Anderson said he was speaking with someone who told him just that.

"He said ‘Mr. Anderson, if you provided varsity-level hockey at ASU ... you would be able to attract so many students from the East and from the North and even from Canada to want to come to Tempe, Arizona to play the sport at a high level,'" Anderson said. "He said ‘I guarantee you, there would be so many prospects for you.' And you know what, I believe that."

Arizona State hockey and coach Greg Powers have done a superb job bringing in high-level talent. Six players next year will be alumni of the United States Hockey League, one of the top junior hockey leagues in North America. That number is by far the highest in the ACHA.

Current USHL veterans include current NHL players like St. Louis forward Paul Stastny, Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, San Jose forward Joe Pavelski, and Olympic hero T.J. Oshie of St. Louis.

There are 11 members of next year's Sun Devil hockey team who chose Arizona State over NCAA Division I schools, and one- defenseman Connor Schmidt- played NCAA last season.

Powers said if his team was a full NCAA team, it would reach new heights.

"I believe that within a few years having 18 scholarships available, ASU would compete at the highest level of NCAA Division I hockey," Powers said.

It's hard to argue that the team would compete. On Dec. 1, 2012, Arizona State became the first ACHA team to ever beat an NCAA Division I team, when it toppled Penn State 3-1 on Penn State's home ice.

It then completed arguably the best ACHA season in history last year, with a national championship, a 38-2 record, and also took home the ACHA Player of the Year (Kale Dolinski), Rookie of the Year (Robert Levin) and Coach of the Year (Powers).

Powers said he isn't concerned with the possibility of going NCAA and said it is out of his control.

"It's really up to ASU Athletics," he said. "In the meantime we'll keep focusing on what we can control and that is winning ACHA national championships and bringing in the highest-level talent possible."

On Title IX, Anderson said it is not necessarily a dollar-for-dollar equivalency. He seemed confident that the money, not Title IX, was the biggest issue.

"If you can get the dollars for one, then I happen to be a believer that you can figure out a way to go get support for another," Anderson said. "Even if that means institutional support. ... If somebody comes up and completely wants to fund men's ice hockey, it will be our responsibility as an institution to say, let's figure a way to financially go out and gather the support so that we can satisfy the Title IX and give other opportunities to women."

But the money is not exactly a small obstacle. A new arena, paying coaches, strength and conditioning coaches, a medical trainer, ticket representatives, travel, player insurance and many other things would need to be paid for.

Powers estimates that it would take a financial endowment of between $30-$40 million to make an NCAA team possible, and an annual budget of between $750,000-$1 million.

That does not mean it is impossible. In fact, Anderson wants to make it part of his legacy.

"I for one, have the personal goal of, before my run here is over, being able to have numerous varsity sports that currently don't exist here," Anderson said. "Men's hockey being one of them."

And that's music to the ears of Arizona State hockey fans.