By Adam Levine
The Framingham State Athletic Department announced the addition of women’s ice hockey as the Rams’ 15th varsity athletic program and Bob Lavin as the team’s head coach Oct. 16.
The women’s ice hockey team will begin competition during the 2024-25 academic year, according to a press release from the Athletic Department.
Athletic Director Tom Kelley said planning for this program started three years ago.
Kelley said adding this program allows the Athletic Department to help the University meet one of the three major prongs of Title IX.
He said, “One of the three prongs of Title IX is continually adding, trying to add women's opportunities.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) website, Title IX compliance is assessed by the opportunities for both men and women student-athletes a university provides, rather than an equal allotment of the budget.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel said, “We're in compliance with Title IX. But continuing to be in compliance, we have to continue to show progress.”
Hamel said other sports came up in the conversation of what new varsity athletic program to add.
He said they considered changing the school’s club women’s rugby team to a varsity sport but they would want to change the club men’s rugby team at the same time, which would take away the Title IX benefits.
“Women’s ice hockey seemed to make the most sense for this round,” Hamel said.
He said the school anticipates spending approximately $100,000 a year on the women’s ice hockey program.
“That's pretty easy to identify because that's about what we spend on the men's team,” Hamel said.
He said women’s ice hockey is a growing sport across the country and the University’s program will provide athletes a place to continue playing after high school.
According to the High School Athletes Participation Survey of 2021-22 and 2022-23, conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of women’s ice hockey programs increased from 699 to 713.
Athletics Deputy Director Carey Eggen said another reason to add women’s ice hockey is the growing opportunity within the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC).
Eggen said the school typically creates a new sport at the club level before adding it as a varsity sport.
She said with the potential for the MASCAC to add women’s ice hockey as a sport as well as the growing interest across the country, it made sense to add the program as a varsity sport for the 2024-25 academic year.
Head Coach Lavin said he heard about the job opening in the beginning of the summer and the opportunity intrigued him.
“It sounded interesting because it's a new program and women's hockey is very popular now,” he said. “It appealed to me because Framingham State is a great spot to have a women's team because the school has some great programs offered.”
Lavin was the FSU head men’s ice hockey coach from 2001 to 2003 and has coached at other college and high school programs.
He said he has coached women’s ice hockey at high school skills clinics and summer camps, but this will be his first time serving as a women’s head coach.
Lavin said, “The girls are very competitive.
“The competition is the same and the skill levels are the same - high-end players are all challenged,” he added.
Lavin said he has already begun reaching out to high school and club coaches in the world of New England ice hockey.
He said the response has been positive. “They were really excited because they think it’s a great opportunity for their players on their team.
“They’ve been really receptive and I've had quite a bit of interest,” Lavin added.
He said he is confident he will successfully recruit athletes in the future. “I think once the first year is under our belt and people know we’re around, girls are going to start migrating to Framingham State because of the reputation of the school.
“The other women's programs are very successful and that will breed successful women's teams as well,” Lavin said.
He said the first step in recruiting is to identify top players in high school programs and then see if their academic interests match programs offered at the University.
Lavin said he is searching for two goaltenders for the roster.
“I want to build the team from the net out,” he said.
Lavin said the goal is to recruit 15 to 18 athletes for the first season and eventually grow the roster to fill 30 to 40 spots.
“I think there'll be girls at other schools who, once they see that we have ice hockey here at Framingham State, will be interested and looking at transferring,” he said. “Maybe we'll get some sophomores and juniors transferring from other schools because they didn’t offer hockey.
“I think that’s cool,” Lavin added.
Head Men’s Ice Hockey Coach Mike Bailey said the new program is a “great addition.”
Bailey said it shows to the rest of the state that the University “finds it important to add the women's team.”
He said many other state schools have already added, or are adding, women’s ice hockey programs.
Bailey said, “Framingham State is right there with the rest of them, being proactive” by adding women’s ice hockey.
He said the new team “brings more attention to the University as far as hockey goes.
“I think it'll help as far as having the female athletes supporting us and us supporting them,” Bailey added.
He said women’s ice hockey has grown as a sport in Massachusetts starting at the youth level.
Bailey said, “It’s a serious sport.
“It's nice to finally see that Framingham State recognizes these female athletes and gives them the venue to go out, succeed and enjoy Framingham State and what it has to offer academically and athletically,” he added.
Ashton Collazo, a junior and one of the assistant captains of the men’s ice hockey team, said he knows a lot of women playing DI and DIII women’s ice hockey, and it is a growing sport across the nation.
In a press release, the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) announced their inaugural season beginning in January 2024 and one of the league’s six teams is located in Boston.
Collazo said, “Women’s hockey is growing each year, so it’s good to get the program in here as well.”
He said the new team can help build up all aspects of what the University has to offer.
Collazo said, “I think having a [women’s] hockey team, obviously it’s going to bring in more kids - more athletes.”
Athletic Director Kelley said he travels to ice rinks and can see women’s ice hockey growing as a sport at the high school level.
He said, “There's a lot of teams out there. There's a lot of players. There are not enough programs to go around.
“I’m hoping it’s an easy sell,” Kelley added.
He said, “I think we’re going to be a service to a lot of high school kids who are looking for a place to play.
“I think it's the right time to do it,” Kelley added.
He said there were many applicants interested in the head coach position, but they weren’t the “right fit, the right time.”
“[Coach Lavin is] the perfect coach for this mission,” Kelley said.