University of Michigan weighs viability of women's varsity hockey program

The University of Michigan (UMich) recently initiated a feasibility study to explore the possibility of establishing a women's varsity hockey program, a long-overdue measure to address the absence of such a program within the state. The study received the support of UMich President Santa Ono and was presented at a meeting of the UMich regents by Denise Ilitch, who is also the daughter of Detroit Red Wings owner Marian Ilitch.

The growing demand for a Division I program in Michigan, which would help retain talented women hockey players within the state, has prompted this push. Currently, Michigan-based women hockey players must leave the state to pursue the sport at a collegiate level, a situation that contrasts starkly with other states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Minnesota. The absence of a varsity program in Michigan is particularly noteworthy given the state's status as a Big Ten school and "Hockey Town," as evidenced by the success of the Detroit Red Wings.

UMich has had a club-level women's hockey team since the 1990s, but the disbanded Wayne State varsity program was the only state school to feature a women's varsity hockey program until its closure in 2011.Ilitch emphasized the need for UMich to take the lead in addressing this issue and respect the women who deserve opportunities on the same ice as men.

The challenge of establishing a women's varsity hockey program is cost and infrastructure. Yost Arena, the Wolverine men's rink, is over 100 years old and lacks the space to accommodate a women's program. The club team currently operates on a budget of between $150,000 and $200,000, with players paying $3,000 in annual fees.

Regent Paul Brown backed Ilitch's proposal, stating, "Women's ice hockey is long overdue and should be the next sport to achieve varsity status." Regent Michael Behm expressed his dissatisfaction with Big Ten rivals Ohio State and Wisconsin competing for the women's hockey national championship last weekend and emphasized UMich's resources and determination to establish a program.

Ilitch acknowledges that the process might take time but is encouraged by the support from the meeting and believes that unity on the project will accelerate it. She hopes to continue pressing ahead to address the need for women's varsity hockey in Michigan.

Ultimately, the feasibility study's outcome will determine the next steps for establishing a women's varsity hockey program at UMich.

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