Tennessee State University could become the first historically-black institution to have varsity men’s and women’s ice hockey teams.
A feasibility study is exploring the possibility that would also make the university the first in the state to establish a program in Tennessee. TSU, in partnership with the NHL, Nashville Predators and College Hockey Inc., is hoping the study will be a favorable one, leading to the historic expansion of intercollegiate athletics.
“The idea of establishing a collegiate hockey program at TSU is a tremendous opportunity as the nation’s first HBCU to take on this endeavor,” said TSU president Glenda Glover in a news release. “This allows us to expand the sport, increase diversity, and introduce a new fan base.
“Our partnership with the Nashville Predators and Sean Henry continues to cultivate groundbreaking programs that will have a lasting impact on the university and our students. We are appreciative for the leadership from the National Hockey League and NCAA College Hockey Inc. in helping to lay the foundation for this process with hopes of bringing college hockey to TSU.”
Since 2017, the NHL and NHL Players Association have sponsored feasibility studies to U.S. colleges and universities that are interested in exploring the addition of NCAA D-I men’s and women’s hockey to their athletic offerings. The study helps guide the schools through the planning, processes, and requisites for establishing a varsity hockey program. This project was launched to aid the development of high-level hockey across the United States, which will provide more opportunities for elite players, access and exposure to new families, and new facilities.
The feasibility study will answer questions about how viable hockey is at TSU, and what needs to happen to put teams on the ice.
“Despite the absence of a Division I hockey program, the state is filled with talented prospective student-athletes that could build a winning program at Tennessee State University,” said Tennessee State director of athletics Dr. Mikki Allen. “We are extremely excited about the prospect of adding men’s and women’s ice hockey to our athletics programs. Having the support of the Nashville Predators and the NHL is truly phenomenal and it speaks to the commitment that these two organizations have to growing the game of hockey.”
Over the last decade, Middle Tennessee has seen the second-highest percentage increase in youth hockey in the United States. In the past six years alone, there have been four new facilities – and seven sheets of ice – that have been built or are in the process of being built in Middle Tennessee.
“Taking this initial step with Tennessee State University, led by their ambitious and visionary leadership, awakens thought on potential playing opportunities, new facilities, and new avenues to watch live hockey, all driven by an HBCU and NHL club in the heart of Nashville. This could be a game-changer.” said Kevin Westgarth, VP of hockey development and strategic collaboration with the NHL
“The passion and vision of President Glover, Dr. Allen and all of Tennessee State University’s leadership in pushing to make hockey a more diverse and inclusive sport through this feasibility study is both inspiring and humbling,” said Predators president and CEO Sean Henry. “Through their passion and track record they will be able to create another success story for other schools and communities to chase and ideally emulate. Pair that with our incredible community, our fan base and wealth of community corporate partners and we will collectively take SMASHVILLE and our sport to new heights because of their pursuit of excellence on all fronts.”
Last year, TSU and the Predators partnered to promote student success through scholarships for retention, along with educational and employment opportunities.
Jamie Isabel, TSU’s associate vice president of institutional advancement, corporate relations and foundations, facilitated the partnership. Isabel said the college hockey teams would benefit the city of Nashville.
“This relationship is certainly indicative of the commitment to the city of Nashville and support of the community by Mr. Herb Fritch, board chair and its members, and Sean Henry, president and CEO and staff,” said Isabel. “Each and every time we called the Predators, they showed up.”
The Predators’ partnership with TSU falls in line with the NHL’s “Hockey Is For Everyone” initiative, and the Predators’ effort to create positive change with their GUIDER (Growth, Understanding, Inclusion, Diversity, Equality and Representation) initiative, founded with the objective of diminishing the prevalence of social injustice.
Results from the feasibility study are expected late fall.
READ MORE (April 28, 2021): Tennessee State University reportedly looking into starting new NCAA Division I hockey program