An inside look at the gender gap in college hockey
Monique Lamouret-Morando knows that the day will come when she and her son stroll through the lobby of the Ralph Engelstad Arena at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks.
Her son will see an exhibit dedicated to his mother and aunt, Jocelyn Lamouret-Davidson, as two of the school’s greatest hockey players, not to mention the two greatest athletes, regardless of sport, who played in the UND.
They will then have what Lamure-Morando knows will be a difficult conversation.
“Someday my son will ask why women don’t play here anymore, and I have to explain it,” Lamure-Morando said. “I want to give [her children] possibilities. You hope that when your daughter grows up, she will have a chance to excel and excel in what she is passionate about. But you also know about the possibilities that she has or doesn’t have.”
At some point in the college hockey season, questions will be asked: why aren’t there more Division I women’s college hockey programs, and why doesn’t every school that has a men’s DI program have an equivalent for women?
There are 62 male DI programs active this season compared to 37 female DI programs. (Technically, the top tier of women’s hockey is called the National Collegiate Division and includes 37 Division I teams plus five Division II programs.) Syracuse has a Division I women’s team, but no men’s team.
But of the 62 colleges and universities with a Division I men’s program, 25 do not have comparable women’s teams.
For example, there are contrasts between the two most famous states in the country for sports in Minnesota and Michigan. Minnesota has the same number of men’s and women’s teams, six, that offer disability hockey. However, there are seven DI schools in Michigan that have a men’s program, but none of them have a women’s program.
Another area of notable difference is what would be considered the western region. Approximately 380 student-athletes active in DI women’s hockey traveled west of Wisconsin, given that one of the usual demarcation lines, the Mississippi River, crosses Minnesota.
As expected, many DI players from this western region are from Minnesota. Others come from California, Colorado and Texas, where the game continues to grow. There are also players from Canadian provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia.
However, the nation’s most westerly DI program for women is in Bemidji, Minnesota. Meanwhile, there are men’s programs in Alaska, Alaska-Fairbanks, the Air Force, Arizona State, Colorado College, Denver, Nebraska, Omaha, and North Dakota.
This means that the state of Colorado, which has the NHL, the AHL, three men’s DI programs and the growth of youth hockey for boys and girls, does not have a single women’s DI program.
“My initial reaction was that we have a lot of work to do to continue to develop hockey at the highest level in the western part of the country,” said Kristen Wright, USA Hockey Development Manager. “We have seen this at the grassroots level in many areas. These players are evolving, and the question is, how long will it take to grow our university programming?”
So why is this the current situation and what, if anything, is being done to potentially add women’s DI programs to colleges or universities that already have a male DI equivalent?
Sportzshala has reached out to numerous colleges and universities with a men’s hockey program that has no equivalent for women. Colorado College was the only one that gave the administrator access to an official statement as to why its institution did not have a women’s program.
CC Vice President/Director of Athletics Leslie Irwin said the school is a Division III facility with 2,100 students. The school competes at the Division I level in two sports: men’s ice hockey and women’s soccer. Irvine said that men’s hockey was “huge in CC and has history”. The team has won two national titles, made 20 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, and has been around since the 1930s.
Regarding women’s football, Irvine said that in the 1980s, after the IX title, there was a realization that CC was pushing for one women’s sport, DI. The school chose football, with the program being a member of Conference USA before joining Mountain West, which is headquartered in Colorado Springs and has several teams within reach.
One of the issues CC will face in adding the women’s program is that there are no schools nearby and each game trip will require a flight.
“It’s not easy when institutions decide what they will add [a women’s hockey program] because they have a male equivalent program,” said Irvine. “You go back to history here, it makes sense why we have those 2 sports. The other part for us is that we are on a small campus with 2,100 students and a 12 percent acceptance rate.”
Some of what Irwin outlined is part of a conversation that many administrators have about the changing face of collegiate athletics.
While college athletics is a lucrative industry, especially at the highest levels of football and men’s basketball, it has seen significant changes during the pandemic due to falling revenues. There is a perception that sports departments are sitting on a ton of money when many spend what they get to stay up to date with the requirements of a competitive DI program. Schools were exploring their approach to athletics before the pandemic intensified those fears, especially in an era of conference reorganization that has proven critical to the survival, prosperity or extinction of some programs.
Student hockey has already felt it. Alabama-Huntsville terminated its men’s program in May 2021 due to, among other things, financial issues related to the pandemic, as well as not being a conference attendee.
Robert Morris cut the men’s and women’s programs in May 2021, just months after the school hosted the men’s Cold Four. In December 2021, the school announced that both programs would be reinstated for the 2023–2024 season through fundraising efforts.
Anchorage Alaska’s hockey program, along with other sports, was scaled back in September 2020, but the team was re-instated in August 2021 following a massive $3 million fundraiser that featured the NHL’s Seattle Craken.
Schools that have not cut programs have wondered if they can afford them at what they consider to be championship levels or a level that would allow them to remain competitive as well as generate income.
In January, California legislator and former San Diego State basketball player Chris Holden introduced a bill that would force schools to determine how they distribute revenue under the so-called College Athlete Protection Act. The bill would require schools involved in major collegiate sports to pay their athletes in addition to covering the cost of six years of guaranteed scholarships and post-college medical expenses.
And while the bill is in California, which doesn’t have college hockey DI programs, the state was the first to pass legislation in 2019 that allows college athletes to earn money from their name, likeness, or NIL.
The introduction of a new program is associated with significant costs. Schools will have to finance the hiring of coaches and support staff. In addition, there are scholarship costs that have their own dynamics, including whether the scholarships come from general school funds or sports departments.
Perhaps the most notable cost? object, and figure out how to pay for it.
“If you are a school and want to add a sport, if you add lacrosse, you may have to repaint the existing field, and that is your job,” said the chief executive of College Hockey Inc. Mike Snee. “If you don’t have access to an adequate hockey facility, you have $75 million to raise,” referring to the approximate cost of building a 3,000-4,000-seat arena.
Accessibility and cost remain long-standing issues when it comes to why the game hasn’t grown in comparison to other sports.
The natural inclination is that it would be easier for a school with a men’s program to add a women’s team. This is true, but there will still be problems with the equipment. It may be necessary to add two more dressing rooms to the arena, additional office space and expanded power and conditioning areas. And that’s without taking into account other items such as increased maintenance costs and ice time management.
There is another issue to consider when it comes to adding men’s or women’s college hockey teams.
Is there a demand for it?
Irvin said that some fans asked for a female program to be added. She said it “came up from time to time” because Colorado College opened the Ed Robson Arena on campus in 2021.
Game development is one of the functions of College Hockey Inc. Snee said he doesn’t usually get a lot of calls from colleges and universities about adding a hockey program, which means that usually College Hockey Inc. calls schools.
Snee said the need to expand hockey is why College Hockey Inc. is working with the NHL and NHLPA to offer prospective schools a feasibility study to assess whether they can add a men’s program, a women’s program, or both.
A total of 11 studies were performed. Some of them included women’s hockey, and one only looked at the women’s team, Snee said.
Feasibility studies are underway with two schools. Both are for women’s hockey only, but Snee cannot reveal the names of the schools due to privacy concerns.
“Feasibility study does not mean they are doing it,” Snee said. “But there is legitimacy in it, and there is a lot of legitimacy in both of them. It is important that we develop DI, D-III and even women’s club hockey. Young women have more opportunities to continue playing into early adulthood. It’s also We need young girls in women’s hockey to see the women and the opportunities they can aspire to…