Tennessee State University will be the first of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities to offer a collegiate-level ice hockey program.
The university will partner with the National Hockey League, the National Hockey League Players Association and the Nashville Predators to gradually rollout the hockey program.
“Welcoming club hockey at a storied HBCU is a meaningful step in the right direction for the sport and will undoubtedly contribute to the vibrant hockey community and inspire future players,” Kevin Westgarth, the NHL’s vice president of hockey development & strategic collaboration, said in a June 28 press release.
The program will begin as a club team and eventually be upgraded to an NCAA Division I team.
“Launching the club team is another tremendous step forward for both the game of hockey and the sport in our community to pursue the ultimate goal,” said Predators CEO Sean Henry. “TSU has been a great partner of the Predators for some time, and we are excited to help the work toward becoming the first HBCU to field a NCAA Division I college hockey team.”
There are currently more than 60 NCAA Division I hockey teams. In 2021, the NHL and the player’s association began sponsoring feasibility studies to assess which U.S. colleges and universities would be able to add their own Division 1 hockey teams.
“The study concentrates on the financial impact of adding hockey,” reports ESPN. “It examines if schools can account for adding scholarships internally, how much it would cost an athletic department to add a coaching staff and a support staff along with a conference assessment to determine if a team has realistic options to join a league.”
Tennessee State began its feasibility study in 2021.
“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 Glove, per the NHL. “This allows us to expand the sport, increase diversity and introduce a new fan base.”
Hockey in North America has traditionally been a predominately white sport. Of more than 700 NHL players in 2020, 43 players were players of color, according to WDET.
In 2022, the NHL conducted an internal demographic study and found almost 84% of its workforce was white. Moreover, 90% of players and coaches were white. The results of the study prompted the league to establish baseline standards for diversity.
“The results are not surprising for a sport that for many reasons, from socioeconomic to geographic and more, has remained predominantly white,” reported AP News at the time. “While the NHL has made efforts to bolster diversity efforts from youth hockey to the front office, change has been slow.”
Tennesse State is currently in the process of hiring a coach of its club hockey team. The coach will be tasked with fundraising, managing the team’s day-to-day operations and recruiting student-athletes.