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Autonomy for 'Power 5' could widen financial gap in college hockey

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The disparity between the small and large schools in college hockey has expanded with the announcement that the NCAA has granted autonomy to the "Power Five" conferences.

Hannah Foslien

The ever-widening financial gap between the haves and the have-nots in collegiate athletics just expanded exponentially.

It didn't come as much of a surprise when on Thursday, the NCAA Board of Governors voted in favor of allowing autonomy to the "Power Five" conferences -- the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Big 12 and the Pac-12, along with Notre Dame.

In layman's terms, the NCAA has voted to allow 65 teams from the five major conferences the ability to write and vote on their own rules. According to ESPN, some of those items that have already been discussed include full cost-of-attendance stipends, insurance benefits, staff sizes, recruiting rules and mandatory hours spent on individual sports.

Given the fact only eight of the 59 teams that sponsor NCAA Division I hockey reside in the five power conferences, we could see the financial gap in the sport widen significantly.

The eight schools -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State of the Big Ten, and Notre Dame and Boston College in Hockey East -- already have financial advantages most schools in the sport don't have. The expansion of TV coverage on the Big Ten Network will provide Big Ten hockey programs a significant advantage not only financially, but in terms of overall exposure. The same with Notre Dame and the NBC Sports Network.

One of the major rule changes likely to occur is adding stipends for the full cost of attendance. In a recent article from MLive.com, Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon projected a stipend of $3,000 per year for every athlete in his program. That will likely cost the school over $1 million per year in stipends for athletes alone.

If the cost-of-attendance stipend is eventually approved, which seems like a certainty, the disparity between major and minor athletic departments will widen significantly.

While all schools would have the ability to open their budgets to compete with the Power Five conference teams, there's no way many of the smaller programs in college hockey could survive by handing out an additional $1 million every year to student-athletes.

Schools like North Dakota have already been exploring ways to remain one of the premier teams in the country, despite not being on the same footing financially as the Power Five conferences. I expect other schools in the sport who have been traditional powers, but reside outside of the Power Five conferences, to find a way stay competitive at the highest level.

The real concern is for the schools with Division II and Division III athletic departments that play Division I hockey. The power schools in the sport already hold significant advantages in recruiting; what happens when they can offer a prospective recruit an extra $3,000 towards cost of attendance that the smaller schools can't?

At this point, the details are fuzzy on many of the projected changes, and no one can realistically predict how significant the shift in power will be. What we do know is that the chasm between big and small schools in college hockey has widened yet again.

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