Fixing The Worst Championships In America Comment Count

Brian March 20th, 2015 at 12:35 PM


the background is devoid of people

College hockey is a lovely little sport with grandiose ideas that have harmed its growth for the past 20 years. For every jam-packed Yost regional with fans going bonkers—some of the best sporting events of my life—there have been ten antiseptic neutral-ice matchups featuring the barely weighted plinko of single-elimination hockey played in front of a crowd that could only be described as "dolorous" if you were feeling exceptionally generous.

The Frozen Four is a successful event that draws attendance from around the country annually; the rest of college hockey's playoff systems are inane at best.

Finally, this seems to be changing. Faced with the stark fact that no one even wants to host the NCAA hockey tournament anymore (ND is hosting this year despite having an odd 90-foot-wide rink because it was literally the only bid for the Midwest), a sensible new face on the competition committee has an innovative idea:

Do what they do in every other sport.

Seriously, though: fixing the worst tournament in American sports would be a personal relief and a step forward for a sport that is stubbornly fixated on playing neutral-site contests no matter how embarrassing they are. Yesterday's attendance at the Joe was scant:


This shot has people in it, unlike 90% of the sections

This will continue. Matt Shepherd yells at fans for not showing up, but that's a counterproductive point of view. The product sucks. The product wants me to drive 90 minutes round-trip to an almost-empty arena with the character of concrete during the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. It does not offer me the opportunity to go to a packed and buzzing Yost Ice Arena in the seat I bought all year. (The cokes are cheaper, I'll give them that.)

Calling people bad fans doesn't change any of that. I'm fed up with it—I did not go nor even think of going—and I have had hockey season tickets for over 15 years. If I'm a bad fan, college hockey has vanishingly few good ones.

Fans eventually notice when they are being pooped on. And I don't know how only MLS and WWE executives realize this in American sports, but the fans are a huge part of the show. I will watch chunks of anything that has folks going insane in a little bandbox of an arena. It shows that whatever's going on is important to somebody. Anybody could be forgiven if they tuned in yesterday for thinking hockey meant nothing to anybody.

If you want your championship to be something other than embarrassing, there is an option. Over the three weeks the CCHA tournament used to take, the Big Ten could have three-game home series all the way to the championship, which would make the regular season more meaningful, provide a more meaningful champion, get their players more games, and make vastly more money.

The reason they do not is still mysterious. Wisconsin and Ohio State objected to needing to keep their buildings free for three weeks when a lot of high school championships are being played in them currently, but Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State all have dedicated facilities with no or little competition for time. They should be able to out-vote the stragglers. That they don't is an indication that the Big Ten doesn't take hockey seriously—something results on the ice have amply proven.

Here is a plan for making college hockey seem, you know, fun:

  • The Big Ten plays all home-site playoff games. People will "attend." This is "good."
  • Two weeks of home-site NCAA regionals, best two out of three. There's already a bye between the regionals and the Frozen Four anyway. For best results, fill with hockey.
  • The Frozen Four continues being itself.

It is not a complicated plan.



March 20th, 2015 at 12:38 PM ^

the Hoops tourney is done?  Are there reasons that would make ending the season in April rather than March impossible?  If not, it seems worth discussing as another way to increase attendance, whether on campus or off.


March 20th, 2015 at 12:54 PM ^

Wisconsin and Ohio State objected to needing to keep their buildings free for three weeks when a lot of high school championships are being played in them currently

I thikn this right here sums up all the problems with the Big Ten right now, and a sign that the Dave Brandons of the world are prevalent everywhere. Why do something good for fans when atheltic departments that are already swimming in money can make some additional revenue off of non-fans?


March 20th, 2015 at 1:00 PM ^

Largely agree, though I guess I don't know the setup of these states to know if it isn't viable for these types of championships NOT to be held in those locations.  I mean, both are centrally located schools in states, and I'm guessing that there have been a number of decisions from the various HS organizations to host these state championships is as "neutral" and easy-to-reach locations as possible.  It's why they host stuff in East Lansing so often.

The fact that Wiscy and OSU can't build hockey areans is silly given how awash the conference is with money, but that seems to be another issue.  


March 20th, 2015 at 8:35 PM ^

My expertise is from when I was in high school 10 years ago, but I believe still correct: basketball is held at the Kohl Center, but I'm not sure what else. Traditionally everything has been held somewhere in Madison (football at Camp Randall, hockey at the dump UW hockey used to play in 40 years ago, etc.) but there is no reason that has to be the case. The center of population (Milwaukee, Green Bay, Appleton, Racine/Kenosha) is all along the East Coast so the Bradley Center actually makes more sense geographically.

And even if they have to play basketball at the Kohl Center that particular weekend, Wisconsin has an on-campus hockey facility (where HS hockey state and possibly UW women's hockey play). It's a dump to be sure, but better than a 95% empty NHL arena.


March 20th, 2015 at 2:49 PM ^

(honestly I do get the concerns about reserving an arena that may well not be needed), how about this:

Tuesday of this week: 3 plays 6, 4 plays 5, both games on-campus.

Friday & Saturday: #1 seed gets to host B1G Semifinals and Final.

That way, it's all on-campus, plus it's only 1 weekend to reserve an arena.  

Admittedly, the Tuesday attendance would likely still be "non-great.", but given what we saw yesterday, a neutral-site 1st round attendance is an incredibly "low hurdle" to clear.  Also, there's not a lot of time for logistical planning. 

Wolverine In Exile

March 20th, 2015 at 3:56 PM ^

They have two hockey arenas in the same city within 10 minutes of each other (Blue Jackets's arena), and frankly they still have other facilities on campus and in Columbus that can host wrestling / basketball games for the HS State Championship. Understood about CBJ's arena maybe laready booked for NHL games or concerts, but lets be honest, it's not like we have to worry about OSU HOSTING any games, amirite? Hell with the crowd OSU usually gets for hockey, they could move a potential hockey series to one of the three hockey arenas in Dayton and they'd probably draw just as much.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:00 PM ^

People bad fans and I certainly wouldn't here, I've been to less than 10 UM hockey games in my life. That said....90 minutes round trip really?

Isn't it really that people just don't care that much? All these folks including yourself who would pack Yost apparently don't care enough to make it to the Joe. I suspect you would have made that drive for basketball.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:08 PM ^

Yeah, 90 minutes isn't probably the issue here as much as the near-empty stadium with a sterile feel and no real sense that important games are being played there.  At least with these basketball tournament games, you can get casual fans as well as diehards and the event feels like an "event".  Who is going to just walk off the street to watch PSU and OSU skate around in Detroit?

Hockey's problem is that it tries to be college basketball when there is absolutely no evidence that there are enough fans or casual interest to sustain it.  As Brian mentioned, the Frozen Four does fine because those are treated as important games with real stakes.  Here there are these random 1-off games at the Joe on a Thursday in the late afternoon.  There aren't nearly enough College hockey fans who are going to take time out of their week for those first-round games.  My guess is today's UM-MSU game will look pretty full, but that's kind of just luck of seeding.

More importantly, it robs teams with real home advantage to benefit from it beyond seeding.  What I loved about college hockey when I was at UM (though I didn't get season tickets, I did attend a couple of games) was that it felt meaingful to win the regular season, to play in front of your fans.  The fact that has been elimianted for the incremental gains in "nationalizing" a regional sport is the issue here.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:35 PM ^

In all honesty, I don't think it is a matter of caring or not.

There is a certain atmosphere you get in a college arena. I have taken people to Yost who don't know a damn thing about hockey, aren't huge fans of Michigan, and have no interest in the game of hockey. But they have an absolute BLAST. The atmosphere is simply electric and it is just a good time. 6,000 fans packed in together and being loud. There's not a bad seat in there. You dont have to bea fan to have a great time in a college arena.

When you go somewhere like JLA, you lose all of that. You lose most of the on campus kids, you lose the intimacy of a 6,000 seat arena. Let's face it. The Joe isn't an attractive arena, even in the pros. I grew up around the game. Played for 15 years. I was a 3 year old at Michigan hockey practices and Marty Turco's dad would give me these absolutely disgusting peppermint candies. To put it lightly, I love Michigan hockey. But I don't enjoy the games at JLA. Even the GLI and the annual UofM-MSU game in Detroit don't interest me. I hate the atmosphere that the Joe gives off.

Yost is an absolutely amazing place to see a game. It truly is. Doesn't matter who you're playing. But when you give a great venue like Yost a high stakes game, such as a regional with Michigan playing, there is nothing better. But when you move games to a neutral site, you lose those fans who don't know much about the game. You lose your casual fans. Hell, you even lose fans like me who love the game and the team. I don't get pleasure from watching Michigan play Wisconsin at JLA. I'm sorry, but I don't. I'd go toYost simply to watch the scrimmage. That's just how I feel about that place. I'm sure plenty of people feel the same way.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:12 PM ^

And I don't know how only MLS and WWE executives realize this in American sports, but the fans are a huge part of the show.

As a fan of the WWE product, I can tell you that they take a pretty dim view of the fans as well.  The big issue now is them trying to push a performer in Roma Reigns (The Rock's shoot cousin) as the Next Big Thing despite it being clear he just isn't ready quite yet.  In the process, they've alienated fans of other performers, chiefly Daniel Bryan but also guys like Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, etc., so that they can have a "cross-over" star like the one guy they lucked into 15 years ago.  In that way, WWE and hockey have the same problem - they want to be more national than they are, to grab the casual for 3 hours every 6 months instead of the people who care about your product 365 days a year.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:20 PM ^

This post makes me angry.

Not because I disagree with the content, because I don't. I have long been on the fix-the-NCAA wagon.

It angers me because I was considering a long, exhaustive diary to post next week, arguing for a change of NCAA tournament format.

My anger is completely selfish. And, really, unnecessary--Brian here makes very good arguments that don't overlap with mine all that much. Save for one crucial exception--the fans are getting the shaft, and it is ridiculous. The NCAA hockey regional system is a complete and total embarrassment to the sport.

It's worth mentioning that prior to the formation of B1G hockey, the WCHA held a Final Five every year in St. Paul that frequently sold out. There is, therefore, precedent for a big one-weekend championship. However, that tournament worked because so many large fanbases lived in close proximity to the site. Even if Minnesota didn't make it, NoDak, UMD, St. Cloud, and others were likely to and would draw well. The B1G has none of this available. It can't work in any venue.


March 22nd, 2015 at 10:01 PM ^

Home Ice would definitely be more exciting. I think the B1G was hoping for more interest in the B1G Hockey tournament but in reality Minnesota or Wisconsin fans aren't driving to Detroit for this, not too many Michigan/MSU fans traveled to Minnesota last year. I hope they correct this experiment. Still some good hockey and USCHO is totally biased against the B1G. Michigan should be in the tourney they won 22 games for crying out loud and the best offense in the country! Only 10 teams have more wins. There are definitely some less deserving teams in the mix


March 20th, 2015 at 1:28 PM ^

What? 90 minutes is too far to travel for a playoff game? REALLY?

I won't call you a bad fan. Just a lazy one.

Hell, it takes me almost that long to get to the airport for a flight to DTW when I attend thrilling non-conference football games against Eastern, Miami (Ohio), etc.

I understand your point about attending a game in a lively environment. It's certainly preferable. Yet, cut the powers that be a little slack, too. Theoretically, a neutral site makes for a more fair playoff competition without giving anyone home ice advantage. I don't blame them for trying it, even if it's not working out and they now feel the need to likely change it.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:36 PM ^

I happened to catch some of yesterday's game on the radio and Al Randall was doing his best Matt Shepherd impression, also calling out the fans without acknowledging the crappy product on offer.  He recognized that it was a weekday evening, and that many fans were probably figuring they'd prefer to go to Friday's game (weekend, better matchup), but he then pointed out that for Michigan, there might not BE a Friday game unless they beat Wisconsin.

With all due respect, Al, that was a very dumb argument.  You're saying I should have gone to last night's game to see Michigan play a horrible team -- and, by the way, Wisconsin fans will travel, but they didn't for last night's game because it's a weekday, the relatively meaningless first of three nights and, again, their team is horrible -- because Michigan might LOSE to said horrible team and that would be my last chance to see them?  Uh, why would I want to see that?  The only possible value of last night's game was to win and survive to play a better opponent with higher stakes -- thanks, I think I'll choose tonight's game.  Drawing conclusions about a fan base from last night's turnout is just -- well, not a good use of one's powers of reasoning.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:44 PM ^

The only product on offer to Michigan fans was a crappy one -- a Thursday night game at the Joe that was, at best, a stepping stone to increasingly less crappy products.  I certainly agree with you that games at Yost would be vastly superior to any of the products being offered this weekend.


March 20th, 2015 at 1:48 PM ^

I for one was planning on going to the whole weekend until I realized last night was the second last week of my Thursday night hockey; so I had to DVR Michigan's game and watch this morning. With the way the season ended I was already starting to not want to go at all and now after seeing how empty that arena was I have no interest in going to see that.
It's not worth the tolls at the border, parking, ticket and gas money to sit in an empty arena. I enjoy the GLI because it's during the holiday and there can be a decent crowd but I avoid JLA the rest of the year.


March 20th, 2015 at 2:02 PM ^

while basketball has evolved the offense introducing 3 point shots and dunks plus other changes which have made the game more entertaining, hockey at the pro level resisted the European concepts such as larger rinks, controlling the puck through the neutral zone (instead of dump and chase), discouraging clutch and grab tactics, outlawing oversized goalie equipment etc.  Even though some of these changes have filtered into north american hockey there is still a resistance against making the game more of an offensive show.  I think that's a mistake and the hockey leadership at the pro and college levels need to get it right as the college fans of today are the pro fans of tomorrow. 


March 20th, 2015 at 2:08 PM ^


Two Fridays ago over 21,000 people were at St. Paul's XCel Energy Center (yes, a neutral site) to watch that evening's high school hockey semi-final games.

High school.

Good job B1G.


March 20th, 2015 at 4:40 PM ^

I'm aware. 

The point of my post is that Minnesota should probably be the permanent host of the B1G tourney, if they're not going to hold it on campus.

Tons of hockey here in the Twin Cities this weekend. Womens' Frozen Four, NCHC, and I think WCHA? If any location can support the B1G, it's the Twin Cities.

Bando Calrissian

March 21st, 2015 at 5:48 PM ^

When the B1G conference was announced, I got on a multiple-page argument with some Gopher blowhard on USCHO about where the conference tournament should be hosted, which made it abundantly obvious that people in Minnesota are completely insane and think the entire hockey universe should revolve around them and the XCel Energy Center.

For my money, to hell with 'em. Rotate the thing if you're insisting on having it in an NHL building, or else go to campus sites. Permasota is a fucking terrible idea.


March 20th, 2015 at 3:36 PM ^

is huge, kind of like HS football in Texas.  Most of the top players in minnesota play HS and not junior hockey.  Minn has tier III juniors only.  I believe Minn HS play more games as well attracting the top talent.  Michigan for instance allows only about 20 games plus playoffs and the season time wise is limited as well. 


March 20th, 2015 at 4:37 PM ^

I live in Shoreview, MN.

Minnesota high school only allows 25 games plus playoffs. The season length is only November - March. They've implemented a new "before and after" program to try and work within the Tier I structure in the future (this was passed by MN Hockey within the past couple of months). We'll see how successful it is from having more and more kids leave for Juniors each year.

I thought Shattuck and the MN Blades were Tier I. Maybe I'm mistaken. 


March 20th, 2015 at 6:15 PM ^

I am familiar with Michigan hockey and have coached some players from Minnesota and heard their rendition of MN HS hockey which was very positive and they were outstanding players that played in the HS system.  Sounds like HS regulations in MN are similar to Michigan right now.  The number of games for elite players is the big problem enticing talent to play HS and still have a shot at D1 programs.  My understanding is that the USHL which is tier I USA Junior hockey currently does not have a team in Minnesota, although I could be wrong about that knowing how these teams come and go sometimes. 


March 20th, 2015 at 3:20 PM ^

I don't know why the NCAA and now the Big Ten have fetishes for empty neutral site arenas. It makes me think they find that awful "noise" coming out of Yost to be an abomination. "College hockey should be played in silence YOU RUFFIANS!"

The CCHA tournament was great. Best-of-3 at home sites. Chanting "sea-son's o-ver" to the other team at your last Yost home game of the year every season. The Big Ten plays 5-7 games less than everyone else in D1 and I have absolutely no clue why. Compress the B1G season a bit and do best-of-3 at the higher seeds home arena over 3 consecutive weekends.

The NCAA regionals I think can be solved easily: go play in college arenas. Not in front of 5 people in St. Louis. Obviously many will (rightly) argue that a 3-seed Michigan hosting 1-seed Boston College in Yost is unfair. The 1-seeds get crapped on enough as is with one-game random number generator hockey. So let the 1-seeds host the regionals. If you could manage a best-of-3 format even better! Giving the higher seed some minor advantage is the least you could give them for a tournament that rewards their great season with bad puck luck and an early exit every year.

I would looooove to watch Miami host a regional or BC or North Dakota or even Union. The atmospheres would be awesome. Which is precisely why the NCAA won't do that. It makes far too much sense.


March 21st, 2015 at 1:52 PM ^

I like the format. Usually there is a week or two break between the announcement of the bracket and the start of the tournament. A venue with about 6,000 capacity like Yost would have no problem selling out regional tickets in that frame.

My question is, are the 1 seeds hosting the entire regional? Or just their best of 3 series with the 4 seed? Meaning would a 2 seed Michigan be playing a 3 seed at Yost, or would they be playing at the arena of that original 1 seed?


March 20th, 2015 at 3:29 PM ^

with all the ideas on here.  I do agree that a neutral site hosting the tournament isn't a good idea either.  However, if you're a parent or relative of a player you might not be able to make your travel and accomodation plans very far in advance.  If you have a closely contested race that comes down to the final weekend, you might not know where you son is going to be playing until the Sunday before the conference tourney starts. 

The 3 weekend tourney idea sounds great unless you're a parent who has to scramble every Sun/Mon to get your travel plans set for the next weekend.

Why not just rotate the host arena each year among the members of the conference?  One year UM hosts, the next year MSU, etc. 


March 20th, 2015 at 3:52 PM ^

Every other conference in the nation has first-round games at the higher seeds in the conference tournament, and parents have to wait until the Sunday to book their reservation for the next weekend.  I'm not aware of any complaints from parents.

Mom & Dad still have to wait until this Sunday to figure out which regional their kid will be playing in.  Again, not a problem.

As somebody (not a parent, but still) who has gone to a large majority of Michigan's regionals, waiting to find out where they will be playing really isn't a problem.  It is a mild inconvenience at the worst.

Hopefully the biggest argument against home games in the conference tournament isn't a mild inconvenience experienced by the players' parents.

Wolverine In Exile

March 20th, 2015 at 4:03 PM ^

would be the 1st and 2nd rd NCAA tourney round to be best of 3 at the higher seeds arena. Advantage to the higher seed for a better season, takes some of the 30-sided die roll aspect of today's tournament away (if you can win 2 road games in 3 days, you're a better team), and would be unbelievably fun atmospheres. Could you imagine the noise if say this year's Michigan team got in as a four seed, went to Boston University, and forced a Game 3 in their bandbox? Or if Minnesota got in and had to travel to Mankato?? That's like Stanley Cup levels of excitement dripping from rafters of venues that are inherently loud!


March 20th, 2015 at 7:15 PM ^

100% agree. The only neutral site games in college hockey should be the Frozen Four - because it's an event and will have strong attendance (although some of the locations - Tampa???? - need to be re-examined) and the special tournaments like the GLI or the Beanpot or things like that which are already a draw and have a base of fans each year.

Blue Durham

March 21st, 2015 at 11:47 AM ^

My best guess is that the NCAA no longer has people who understand how to build up a sport's popularity.

Back in the 1970's, the NCAA basketball tournament was nowhere near what it is today in popularity. One thing they did, that absolutely infuriated me, was to give many programs home court for their regional in the first weekend. UNC was a host almost every year, whether the first or second weekend, and this gave them a huge advantage.

The reason the NCAA did this, though, was that they had trouble drawing a good crowd for neutral-site games. The games in Chapel Hill were always sold out, and crazy. But by building up the popularity of "March Madness," the NCAA was able to move to neutral-site games for the entire tournament while having good to excellent attendance for all of the games.

But for hockey, the Big Ten and NCAA has just jumped to the neutral-site games without building up the sport's popularity or fan base. This might never happen due to the popularity of the sport down in the lower 48, but it will never, ever happen if they insist on playing in empty, unenthusiastic arenas.


March 21st, 2015 at 3:19 PM ^

Makes you wonder how many more titles schools like Michigan, North Dakota, and BC would have in the last 20 years. I've seen all three bow out earlier than they should've numerous times due to randomness.

That 2-0 win over North Dakota in 2011 likely would've been a pleasant front end for us before NoDak ended up winning that series 4-1 en route to a national title.


March 22nd, 2015 at 4:15 PM ^

After chanting "Big Tens sucks" during the trophy presentation after the championship game a lady wearing Big Ten credentials called myself and my buddy over to her by the Zamboni entrance. Thinking "here we go about to get yelled at." They lady says "tell me what you don't like about the setup" we proceeded to tell her our complaints. 1. Go to home sites for first two rounds 2. Listen to the fans complaints. She said the format was voted on by the coaches and in two years when the contracts are up for The X in Minny and Olympi Entertainment in Detroit they will revisit the format. She also admitted she loved the CCHA because that is what she grew up with. Was a nice conversation and she appeared to agree with us and be open to our ideas. Never got her name other than a "deputy commissioner". After doing some research this was Diane Dietz. Delaneys right hand (wo)man. A Michigan grad and women's basketball star. We'll see what comes of it but it doesn't sound like anything until 3 seasons from now.


March 22nd, 2015 at 10:32 PM ^

Since when are the Michigan Wolverines a "product". I guess the writer stopped being a fan of  the TEAM when he/she started a blog. JLA is an awesome venue with a ton of history. It's sad that people like you make excuses for your lack of enthusiasm because of the "product". The Michigan hockey team is pretty exciting, scoring 143 goals and winning 22 games. I'm sure that in a few years you are going to say that you loved watching Zach Hyman and Dylan Larkin when in reality you couldn't drive 30 min to support their effort to win the B1G title in Detroit and move on to the NCAA tourney (which I think they could have won). The TEAM deserves your support just like they did when you didn't show up for the Maryland football game at the Big House even though Brandon (previous excuse for apathy) was already fired. It was the last game for some great Michigan men and all they needed was one more win for a bowl bid, rabid fan support may have given them the home field advantage to propel them to victory. A fair weather fan making excuses is what I see. At least you can feign excitement for foot-baugh-ll this fall.