(CNN)Tennessee State University announced it is exploring adding men’s and women’s ice hockey teams, a development that would make TSU the first of the historically Black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, to do so.
TSU, in partnership with the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators and College Hockey Inc., is conducting a feasibility study on how viable it would be to have hockey at the school. Results are expected late fall.
“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. The university was founded in 1912 and is Nashville’s only public university.
“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 announcement comes as the NHL has faced increasing criticism from its few Black players, who have been the targets of racist abuse from fans and from coaches. Last June, a group of current and former NHL players of color formed the Hockey Diversity Alliance to “eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey.” But the group split from the NHL in October and criticized the league’s lack of commitment to their cause.
“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. The NHL did not respond to the criticism at the time.
The TSU feasibility study also comes as the Volunteer State has seen a rise in interest in the sport. The TSU press release said that Middle Tennessee has seen the second-highest percentage increase in youth hockey in the US 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.
Nashville Predators President and CEO Sean Henry also offered his praise for the plan in the news release.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson contributed to this report.