Column: Show hockey the money

By Dan Berrigan

No matter how much they win, the Illini hockey club always seems to get the shaft.

Despite winning the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s National Championship last season, the Illini continue to get no respect from the University.

Each hockey weekend, Campus Recreation charges the club $2,000 to play its games, and with a six-month season and 22 home games, the costs quickly add up. Tickets sales are what keep the Illini afloat, but because of the Ice Arena’s fees, each player must fork over $1,200 a season to wear an orange and blue jersey.

Opponents say the team is just another club sport and shouldn’t get any more money than rugby, lacrosse or ultimate Frisbee. The difference is hockey draws in upwards of 2,000 paying fans each week, and if correctly marketed could become a cash cow for everyone involved. Instead, the team is left to fend for itself.

“We are a premiere team in the league, and other teams at our level don’t pay anything, while we pay for everything,” sophomore forward Nick Fabbrini said.

As if charging the Illini to play each of their home games wasn’t enough, Campus Rec rakes in all of the concession stand revenue as well, even though they couldn’t sell a thing without the team.

Head coach Chad Cassel said he is appreciative of every penny he gets from the University, but the team’s arrangement with Campus Rec doesn’t stack up to other schools.

“Comparing ourselves to the top programs like Penn State and Ohio University, it’s a joke,” Cassel said.

At Penn State, players not only play for free, they travel with six full-time staff members, a massage therapist, a radio crew and a team psychiatrist. Cassel’s team is lucky to be able to pay the bills.

“We have years where we are $10,000 to $15,000 in the hole and others where we make money,” Cassel said. “But we’ve had to cut back on a lot of expenses. We haven’t traveled as much the last few years to help us get out of debt.”

In fairness to the players and the students, the deal between these two needs to be re-examined. All the Illini want is to play hockey without having to visit a savings and loan officer every year.

“We work just as hard as any other team on campus, and on top of that, we’re good,” Fabbrini said. “It’s not like we aren’t a marketable team. We’re recognized in the Champaign-Urbana community, and I’m surprised the University doesn’t see that.”

After four decades of being swept under the rug, it’s time for the hockey team to get their due.

Dan Berrigan is a senior in Engineering. He can be reached at [email protected]