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Onward Debates: Will Hockey Overtake Basketball in Popularity?

The hierarchy of sports at Penn State has remained unchanged for quite some time: Football has always been king in Happy Valley, with basketball a distant second. However, the Penn State sports landscape might change for good this season as an arena full of Penn State hockey fans are unleashed at Pegula Ice Arena. The men’s hockey team has every opportunity to finally push the basketball team to third on the totem pole, but is a new stadium and a piqued interest in the program enough to give hockey the silver?

Yes — Greg Schlosser

The Pegula Ice Arena was designed to get rowdy.

The BJC, for all its usefulness, is a horrible venue for the basketball team. The average attendance for a basketball game was around 7,000 in 2011, which feels awfully empty when the BJC can seat 15,000. While the BJC is a nice arena, there’s no “college atmosphere” feel to any of the games that take place there.

The $90 million Pegula arena may have state-of-the-art weight rooms and treatment facilities, but its best design feature is the intentionally small capacity. At a capacity of only 6,000, the arena is designed so that everyone is close to each other and on top of the action at all times. And with the student section behind the away goalie for two of three periods, you can guarantee that the atmosphere in Pegula will be one of the best in college hockey. 

It’s the first year of Big Ten hockey.

While “traditional” Big Ten teams have played college hockey for years, this will be the inaugural year of the Big Ten hockey conference. The conference will feature Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and the teams will play each other multiple times during the season.

You may think that the rivalry between Penn State and Michigan in basketball is decent, but wait until something like this happens between the two teams in hockey. Due to the fact that the conference is so small, Penn State will become rivals with pretty much every team out of the gate. And what’s more fun than playing a hated rival night in and night out?

Hockey is a much better live sport.

Unfortunately, something like this is hard to put into words so here’s a video of David Glen’s game winning goal last year against AIC:

The best part is that exciting moments like this can happen at anytime during the game. Whether it’s a huge goal like Glen’s in the video above or an acrobatic save, there are usually a few moments per game that make you jump out of your seat. And that’s what really separates hockey from most other sports; at any moment the game can change completely due to a bouncing puck or a huge hit. The fast-paced nature of the game is very addicting and entices new fans to keep watching.

There are A LOT of hockey fans in State College already.

One of the biggest obstacles that any new hockey program faces is getting enough followers from the beginning. Hockey isn’t America’s most popular sport to begin with, so getting people interested in the sport isn’t exactly easy. Luckily, this won’t be a problem for Penn State as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils, and New York Rangers are all well represented in State College. The point is, there are a lot of hockey fans at Penn State who are just dying for meaningful hockey to be played here.

No — Bill DiFilippo

Oh, hockey. Hockey, hockey, hockey. You’ve been a Division I sport for almost as long as I have, yet somehow, you are being pimped as the biggest thing on campus. Why? Outside of the fact that the team has a shiny new stadium, I have no idea. The team isn’t very good — it went 13-14-0 last year and is picked to finish last in the Big Ten — and if there’s one thing that we’ve learned from years of Penn State athletics, it’s that attendance and success go hand in hand. Will the fans keep going to hockey games because the stadium is nice? I don’t know, but if the team struggles, I wouldn’t be surprised if the attendance starts going down. We have years of evidence that shows that the only think that gets people to come to games is winning, and I’m not certain that the hockey team can do that.

As for the other arguments made by my esteemed colleague, I view them like this:

The first year of playing in a stacked hockey conference may hurt the team

Penn State, by all accounts, is going to be really good in a few years. However, there still is room to grow this year, which is nice…until you remember that the Big Ten is one of the best hockey conferences in the country. While the team will get better from being thrown to the wolves, the win/loss record probably won’t show that, and like I just said, the only thing that gets people to come to games is winning.

Hockey is not a much better live sport

This answer will vary depending on who you ask. I think basketball is a much better live sport. So does one of my roommates. The other two? Hockey guys. There are plenty of people who would prefer to watch a basketball game rather than a hockey game, and vice versa. Everyone’s preferences are different, but to call one sport much better than another is more subjective than anything. Of course, if the basketball team is able to average 70 points a night like Pat Chambers wants, we may see some of the most entertaining basketball in all of America. Who wouldn’t want to see that?

There are A LOT of fans of every sport in State College

Of course there are a lot of hockey fans at Penn State. Put 40,000+ people together and there’s going to be a large group of fans for almost any major sport. I’m sure there are a ton of baseball fans at Penn State, with students coming from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the Tri-State area. When was the last time you saw the crowd at a Penn State baseball game? Jay Gatsby’s funeral attracts more people than a Penn State baseball game, which, based on the “nice arena + good competition + lots of fans of the sport at PSU” logic, makes zero sense.

While the basketball team won’t be amazing, it should still be a good team with a shot at making the NCAA Tournament. Unlike hockey, it has two of the best players in the country in Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill. According to Chambers, the team wants to get up and down the court, playing an aesthetically pleasing style of ball for the first time in the Chambers era. If hockey is going to surpass basketball as the #2 sport at Penn State (or the #3, depending on how you view wrestling), it’s not happening during a down year on the ice and an up year on the hardwood.

One thing that has been lost among all the hubbub for hockey this year is that there is actually excitement around the 2013-14 Penn State Nittany Lions men’s basketball team. The team is playing in a huge preseason tournament, rekindling its rivalry with Pitt, returning to Rec Hall, and kicking off Big Ten play on New Years Eve at home. The backcourt is loaded, the coach is optimistic, and there’s a chance we see Penn State’s first postseason bound team since 2010-11. Unlike hockey, which has optimism for the future, the basketball program is optimistic right now.

Maybe someday, hockey will become the second more popular sport at Penn State. However, that someday won’t be in 2013-14.

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Posts from the all-student staff of Onward State.

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