Last week for the second time in recent months Tennessee State University’s athletics program was in the national news. The Eddie George hiring got them major attention both in and out of the sporting arena, and the same was true when an announcement was made that the school was exploring the possibility of adding hockey to its array of varsity sports. TSU is conducting a feasibility study in partnership with the National Hockey League, Nashville Predators, and College Hockey Inc. The results of this study are expected to be released late this fall.
If TSU is successful in adding men’s and women’s ice hockey they would be the first HBCU in the nation to take that step.

“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,” President Glenda Glover said in a statement. “This allows us to expand the sport, increase diversity, and introduce a new fan base.” TSU would also be the first varsity hockey program in Tennessee. “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,” Director of Athletics Dr. Mikki Allen said.

“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.”

The intriguing aspect of the announcement is the timing. The NHL has taken salvos of criticism from a group of current and former NHL players of color who formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA). Their mission when they began last June was “to eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey.” But in October the Alliance split from the NHL, and they’ve been both public and outspoken about their lack of confidence that the NHL is truly interested in diversity and inclusion.

“Unfortunately, the support we hoped to receive from the NHL was not delivered and instead the NHL focused on performative public relations efforts that seemed aimed at quickly moving past important conversations about race needed in the game,” the HDA said lin a statement last fall.

Still, picking now to start the sport could be the perfect time for TSU due to a statewide surge of interest in hockey. In the press release, TSU said Middle Tennessee has seen the United States’ second-highest percentage increase in youth hockey over the last decade. “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, NHL Vice President of Hockey Development and Strategic Collaboration.

The Predators also offered their support, with the team’s President and CEO Sean Henry saying, “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.”

“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.”

Time will tell whether men’s and women’s hockey really comes to TSU, but just the idea has gotten the university coverage everywhere from CNN to ESPN. That’s certainly a good thing.