STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Before he said a word, Penn State president Graham Spanier offered a clue about the school's latest athletic endeavor by pulling a blue hockey sweater over his white dress shirt and tie.
Happy Valley will soon be home to major college hockey.
Ending years of speculation, university leaders on Friday announced they were upgrading the Penn State men's and women's club hockey teams to Division I status, starting in the 2012-13 season.
Penn State hockey fans can thank Terry and Kim Pegula, who donated $88 million — the largest private gift in Penn State history — to fund a new multipurpose arena and help upgrade the men's program. The athletic department will fund, or seek other private donations, for the women's program.
"So maybe someday in these hills of Pennsylvania, we're going to find a Pennsylvania (Sidney) Crosby," Terry Pegula said at a trustees meeting Friday morning, referring to the Pittsburgh Penguins' star. "Hopefully, he'll play hockey for Penn State, and I think that's awesome."
Pegula is the founder and former president of the energy company East Resources Inc., a major player in the state's burgeoning natural gas industry that was sold to Royal Dutch Shell PLC for $4.7 billion earlier this year.
The announcement culminates nearly four years of discussions between school representatives and Pegula, a Penn State graduate.
"This is a banner day in the history of our ... university, our athletic program, college hockey," athletic director Tim Curley said at a news conference.
Penn State had a men's varsity team from 1939 to 1946. The club team, the Icers, was started in 1971 and has won seven American Collegiate Hockey Association national titles.
The school has had a women's club hockey team, the Lady Icers, since 1996-97, and the teams play in the campus' 1,500-seat Ice Pavilion.
In the new Division I program, there would be 18 scholarships for men's hockey and 20 for women's hockey.
The new arena is to be completed in 2014 and will seat about 5,000-6,000. Officials said it would have two ice sheets that they hope will also attract NHL and AHL exhibition hockey and ice shows.
Five other Big Ten schools play Division I hockey, but there is no Big Ten hockey league. Big Ten rules allow for a championship whenever six schools sponsor a sport.
Minnesota and Wisconsin play in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
Curley said Penn State would play an independent Division I schedule the first two seasons before starting play against Big Ten schools in 2014-15 — though no decision has been made on any conference affiliation, Big Ten or otherwise. Discussions will start next month at Big Ten meetings.
Curley said he could envision possible agreements or affiliations with other hockey leagues so that long-standing rivalries aren't disturbed.
"This leads to the presumption that there will be a Big Ten men's ice hockey championship at some point in the future," the conference said in a statement Friday. "A decision of that nature, however, cannot be made without a significant amount of discussion" among schools and the hockey community in general.
"Whatever we do, we will communicate in a respectful and responsible way as we endeavor to balance all of the unique interests in play," the Big Ten statement said.
It's more good news for Pennsylvania college hockey fans with the state already hosting back-to-back NCAA Frozen Fours at mid-decade. The Division I men's hockey championships will be played in Pittsburgh in 2013 and Philadelphia in 2014.