The NCAA Hockey Tournament Could Be Better Comment Count

NastyIsland March 28th, 2017 at 12:23 PM

[Ed-S: NastyIsland=David Nasternak=our hockey beat guy and general doer of things.]

(Patrick Barron) It might look decently filled in, but the entire upper ring is tarped off

Did you watch any of the NCAA Hockey Tournament last weekend?  Maybe.  Probably not.  Did you attend one of the Regionals?  Hahaha.  Did anyone? [see above picture] This seems…less than ideal. College hockey is fun!  Local arenas and atmospheres are intense and intimidating.  Couldn’t this sport tap into this energy and utilize one of the main positives that differentiates collegiate athletics from professional sports?  I think so.


WHO GOES? 16 NCAA hockey teams.

The number of teams should stay the same.  Does more than 25% of all of college hockey making the NCAA Tournament seem a little high?  Sure, but the numbers work well and one of the repeatedly mentioned goals is to increase the growth and visibility of the sport, in general. So, 16 it is.  Continue using the same selection method: Pairwise Rankings and Conference Tournament winners.  Avoid conference matchups in the First Round, obviously.


WHY CHANGE? There are a few well-known issues with the current set-up:

Poor Attendance: A couple Regionals have better attendance than others.  Generally, those in the northeast tend to do better because the distance between schools and sites is not as far.  Sites with a participating host team also do a little better because there is a rooting interest.  However, the random Midwest Regional in an AHL/NHL arena is usually…sparse.  I have been to a few of these and it is not entertaining.

No Reward for Dominance: If a team has had a good season and managed to secure a #1 seed, there is no guarantee that their matchup or playoff site is to their advantage.  The committee will try to place higher seeds closer to home, but…sometimes, teams are sent to Minneapolis and get paired with Minnesota in the first/second round.  Or one of the schools from Boston.  That seems like punishment.  There have been countless debates about whether it’s better to be in a certain location or be a certain seed.  This should never happen!  Being a higher seed should always mean receiving a reward!

[Hit THE JUMP for David's elegant solution to the worst postseason in sports]

NO MORE PLINK-O( Hockey Table??: Building on the previous point, single elimination hockey for every round is ridiculous.  This is a major advantage to lower seeds.  I understand the desirable unpredictability factor, but it comes at the expense of not rewarding teams that have earned an advantage over the previous six months.

Replicate Basketball Craziness: Right now, there are 12 games over 3 days of single elimination hockey.  That’s ok-ish for the crazy/excitement factor.  But what if there was a way to practically double the number of games while having some simultaneous NFL-esque finishes, a la the ‘Two Best Days In Sports?’


WHAT? The solution to the first two rounds is simple.

First Round: Eight separate Best-of-Three, Friday-Saturday-Sunday weekend series, featuring 1v16, 2v15, 3v14, 4v13, etc.  Following this weekend, eight teams would remain.

Second Round: Four separate Best-of-Three, Friday-Saturday-Sunday weekend series, featuring the highest remaining seed against the lowest remaining seed and so on.

Then there could be a couple of different options:

Frozen Four.  Essentially, everything about the current Frozen Four format would remain the same.  Four teams, two semifinals, single elimination, a Championship Game, and a National Champion.  That would be fine.  It is interesting, well-attended, traditional, ‘Merican.


Frozen Four Mini Tournament. Have a week-long (Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday) Round Robin where each team plays the other three teams on the first three gamedays and the two best teams play in a National Championship Game on the fourth day.  Tie-breakers can be Head-to-Head, Goal Differential, Goals Scored a la most soccer competitions.

I would probably favor the original Frozen Four concept, but if the second option was used, I could get on board.  Going to an interesting destination (no spoiler alert) for a week could be fun.  A Third-Place Game on Friday could be an option if interest permitted.


WHERE? Again, the opening rounds are straightforward.


First and Second Rounds: Home Sites.  The higher seed hosts the lower seed all weekend.  (Alternating would be inefficient, extraneous, and too much of a hassle.)    Great atmospheres in college hockey would now be brought back into the equation for the most important stretch of the season.  No more empty AHL arenas or vacated home venues for a game of which the local scene has no interest.  The only games in town would be involving the team of whom locals had bought season tickets or followed all season.

*caveat* If the higher seed would prefer to move their series to a different location for attendance/availability purposes, it would be allowed, obviously. But they should be at least given the option of hosting at their home venue.

Frozen Four: Rotation among Six.  The Frozen Four has been rotated all over the country, mostly settling in the Midwest/Northeast.  Some of these sites have been great, others have been head-scratchers.  I think that there are five great sites: Denver, Minneapolis/St Paul, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Boston.  All five are known as great hockey cities, and almost all of the current DI hockey programs are located near-ish to one of these five locations.  The sixth site can be random.  Grow the sport.  Go to Phoenix, Nashville, Anaheim, New York, or even Anchorage.   Just make sure the five strongest mini-regions get to host and then go on a whim for the sixth.


WHEN? This could remain simple or become revolutionary.

Keep it the same.

-First Round during last weekend of March

-Second Round during the current Bye Week (and Final Four)

-Frozen Four (Round Robin Week) on the same current weekend, following the Final Four.

That’s fine, I suppose.  There will be some viewership conflicts with the NCAA Basketball Tournament, but that’s already happening.  Is there an overlap between the two fanbases?  Probably a little bit.  Enough to warrant a change?  Ehhhhh, I don’t know.  If so, there is an Option #2.

Start the NCAA Hockey Tournament on the current weekend of the Frozen Four.  Wait until college basketball has completely ended and eliminate that portion of the competition.  For instance, in 2017:

-First Round would take place on weekend of April 7-9th

-Second Round would be April 14th-16th

-Frozen Four would be April 20th-22nd

Even if the Round Robin element was implemented, the Championship Game would be in late April. This would result in conflicts with MLB, NHL/NBA Playoffs, but whaddaya gonna do? There are always sports. If there are concerns about stretching out the season, add more games: non-conference series are fun. Or schedule more Bye Weeks. These are all viable options, so the April schedule shouldn’t be a problem.

Being the college sports enthusiast that I am, I wouldn’t mind seeing the latter implemented.  Give hockey its own month with no inherent basketball competition.  March Madness followed by April Absurdity.

( A month to ourselves


HOW? Let’s get creative.

First Round: There are eight series.  Call it Friday Night Frenzy.

-Start games on the half-hour: 6pm, 6:30pm, 7pm, 7:30pm, 8pm, 8:30pm, 9pm, 9:30pm.  Games sometimes start around 6/6:30pm, anyway.  ESPN, NBC, Fox, etc. can televise 1 or 2 early and late games, and stream the rest on-line.  The carrier can also have a RedZone-esque channel/stream that focuses on close games/late games/powerplays, etc. Can you imagine Buccigross and Melrose doing a RedZone??  All of the games can be staggered, so there should always be action happening from 6pm-12am+.  Starting times can be determined by geographic location, allowing each fan locale enough time to get to their arena.  This would be AWESOME.  It would be like the first couple days of the NCAA Basketball Tournament…and you wouldn’t need to take off work!


-Saturday and Sunday games could follow a similar path or could break into multiple windows, such as 3pm, 6pm, and 9pm.  All games could still be channeled or streamed, and a RedZone could easily be implemented.  Weekends provide more options for more eyeballs.  If there is a concern about eight camera crews/announcing tandems, let local stations cover games and allow the national entity to tap-in.  Or…let them send their own crew.  Are there legal hiccups?  Maybe, but this has been done repeatedly before, so it shouldn’t be a Shut-Down Obstacle.

Second Round: There are now four series.  This could be similarly scheduled or spread out -depending on the teams involved and times played.

-Friday could be 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm - or 7pm, 7:30pm, 9:30pm, and 10pm.  Channel and/or stream them, and have a RedZone if necessary. This would probably be lot better hockey, and there would hopefully not be as many blowouts as the first round could have.

-Saturday and Sunday could be similar.  By the time the tournament reaches this point, each game will be worth focusing on, instead of the spectacle of mass hysteria.

Frozen Four: This can still be Thursday/Saturday under the traditional model. If Round Robin is the choice, have 4/8pm doubleheaders -or 7/10pm if the location serves.  These minor tweaks can be worked out as necessary.


What Would Have Happened in 2017:

Final Pairwise and Conference Winners Making a Top 16:

1 Denver
2 Minnesota-Duluth
3 Harvard
4 Minnesota
5 Massachusetts-Lowell
6 Western Michigan
7 Boston University
8 Union
9 Penn State
10 North Dakota
11 Cornell
12 Air Force
13 Notre Dame
14 Providence
15 Ohio State
16 Michigan Tech

First Round Matchups with Timeslots on Friday Night Frenzy:

6:00pm: (14) Providence AT (3) Harvard ESPN2

6:30pm: (10) North Dakota AT (7) Boston University ESPN

7:00pm: (9) Penn State AT (8) Union ESPNU

7:30pm: (12) Air Force AT (5) Mass-Lowell ESPN3

8:00pm: (11) Cornell AT (6) Western Michigan ESPN3

8:30pm: (15) Ohio State AT (2) Minnesota-Duluth ESPN2

9:00pm: (13) Notre Dame AT (4) Minnesota ESPN

9:30pm:(16) Michigan Tech AT (1) Denver ESPNU

Just sayin’.



March 28th, 2017 at 12:34 PM ^

The problem always seems to be that the small schools never, ever support this because they know they're giving away their tremendous advantage but will mask it as an argument that the big schools are trying to keep the small schools from succeeding. I'd love this format or anything close to it.

The Maizer

March 28th, 2017 at 12:42 PM ^

This would obviously be awesome (though I'd keep the Frozen Four how it is now). The only way something like this would happen is if the money drives it there. Is there enough viewership for big time TV money to roll in with all of these games? I don't think it's likely.

I would settle for the baby step of having first and second round games being at home campus sites of the higher seed.


March 28th, 2017 at 12:49 PM ^

I went to the Ferris-Denver regional final game last year in St. Paul and there were maybe 1,000 people in an 18,000-seat NHL arena. The atmosphere was...not great. 


March 28th, 2017 at 12:55 PM ^

All of these proposals are better than the current format, but if the NCAA insists on keeping the current format, they really need to look at pricing.  Last year, Michigan was in Cincy and I didn't think twice about paying a premium to see them.  This year, I didn't go even though I love college hockey because regional tickets are pricey if you don't have a rooting interest.  Drop that price though and I would gladly head downtown and hope for an entertaining game.  Maybe they need a dynamic pricing model that drops the price as the game gets closer.  I don't think partisans would hold out too long and you'd at least get some locals in the door if attendance sucks.


March 28th, 2017 at 2:29 PM ^

Hey guys, thanks for hopping over to my wheelhouse.

I have written extensive polemics about the NCAA tournament (three years running I started and perpetuated lengthy USCHO threads about this, inspired in part by guys like Alton) and griped about it excessively here as well. Here's a highlight from a diary I wrote last year that touches on the injustice of the current format:

I used the word "unjust" advisedly, because the reason the regional system persists as it does is that it actually well serves two important constituents: Small, low-money schools, which predominantly exist in the East; and larger, bigger-money schools that are also in the East.

It serves the small schools well because an empty arena is an easier place to pull an upset, especially against a #1 seed that had to fly hundreds of miles because the closer arena happens to be reserved for the hosting team. And it serves the larger Eastern schools well because most of them are clustered in such close proximity that they have not one but two regionals that they may attend in easy driving distance.

Seriously. Since the four-regional system was introduced in 2003, all "Eastern" regionals save one (there are two per year; the sole exception is Rochester in 2007) have been located within in a quadrilateral encompassed by Albany, Bridgeport, Providence, and Manchester. (The favorite regional location, Worcester, is right in the middle of that space). The longest driving distance between those cities is 2.5 hours, between Manchester and Bridgeport; all other distances are shorter.

The result is that a team like Boston College almost never has to travel far for the NCAA tournament. In fact, since the four-regional system debuted, BC has attended a regional within an hour's drive of Boston in every season except two: 2011, when they had to travel to St. Louis, and 2009, when they did not make the tournament.

In contrast, teams like Minnesota-Duluth and Michigan Tech can NEVER hope for a Regional closer than 2.5 hours away and if they make the tournament almost invariably have to travel much further. The Colorado teams only have a hope of a close regional in those rare instances one is placed in Colorado, and a team like Minnesota State can have a dream season ruined by a "luck of the draw" regional where the only available "Western" Regional is in South Bend, 8 hours away. And in this context regionals have been awarded to places like St. Louis and Cincinnatti, cities with zero college hockey support.


I quote so much because the East-West imbalance isn't touched on much in this post but is a huge driver of the problems with the tournament. Just last week the Duluth News Tribune ran an editorial decrying the fact that UMD almost never gets to play a tournament game in driving distance. There was one regional in Minneapolis, which of course subjects them to the risk of being a road team against Minnesota, and this year they played in Fargo and UMD fans had little chance of going because North Dakota fans bought all the tickets four months ago.

Yes, I believe change is necessary.

I don't necessarily agree with David's proposals. This is already long, so I think I'll examine them in a separate comment.


March 28th, 2017 at 1:40 PM ^

And apparently it's been so long since I've upvoted an OP that i no longer know how to. So I'm writing a message to say kudos to you. As someone who mostly discovered the wonderful world of hockey as an undergrad at Yost, I have much more love for college hockey than the NHL or even college basketball (I was a student during the Amaker era, so hockey was amazing at the time). I'd love to see college hockey get its share of the sun. I feel like this is a great solution.

Also liked Brian's idea of the GLI being a Michigan Championship in the fall.


March 28th, 2017 at 1:43 PM ^

A critique of some of the proposals:

Regarding the first two rounds, playing the games at the home venues of the higher seeds is a no-brainer. However, while I would enjoy best-of-3 series, I think single games are more practical. In part this is due to television, the one element that would be seriously harmed by the abandonment of regionals--it's one thing to say that ESPN can stream all 36 games that might be necessary to reduce the field to four, but it's not likely that they'll want to do it. Single games are a bit more palatable.

More importantly, single games are much easier to schedule. One can schedule them over the course of a weekend to minimize conflicts, allowing people to watch more games on fewer channels. Just as important, teams whose home venues may have scheduling conflicts (a high school sports tournament or a concert, for example) would have an easier time finding a slot that would allow them to play once than getting an entire weekend. Tickets are moderately easier to sell, too.

Regarding the Frozen Four, keep it the way it is. I like the set rotation idea and with Detroit getting a proper arena and thus being qualified to host the event again I think this is a good solution. I would quibble that there might be some push from Eastern schools to move the Pittsburgh FF a bit closer to them, and while I am rather harsh on them regarding regionals they would have a valid argument there, since Detroit is considered "Western" in college hockey. 

A round robin tournament would basically be a stripped-down version of the Memorial Cup, and that wouldn't be the same kind of event with the same kind of fanbase at all. The Memorial Cup is typically played in arenas that seat less than 10,000 people (it's in Windsor this year) and it's not the sort of thing that people block out time to attend every season wherever it is in large numbers the way people do for the Frozen Four. Lengthening the event like that is a recipe for a sharp drop in attendance for no actual gain in drama or quality.

And playing it later would lengthen what is already the longest season in college sports, unless they move the start of the season back into October (which I could tolerate). I think it would still get lost a bit in the opening of the NHL playoffs.

Just moving to single home site games for the first two rounds is relatively simple and fixes most of the biggest problems. Teams like UMD deserve home games.

And, you know, so do small schools that have a good season and get a top-8 seed.


March 28th, 2017 at 2:36 PM ^

Regarding the FF location: Upon further thought, the rotation should be tighter. I don't think Pittsburgh or Denver are really necessary. Put Detroit, St. Paul, and Boston in a permanent rotation with either one or two rotating years to "grow the sport" and also to hit places like Chicago and Pittsburgh and stick with that.

The Twin Cities, Detroit, and Boston are the focal points of the sport, and it is absolutely insane that Boston and Minneapolis/St. Paul host so rarely. It would also be a crime that Detroit didn't host frequently if they had an arena that could host it, which they are about to.



March 28th, 2017 at 11:12 PM ^

I have gone every year for almost 2 decades now.  There have been few venues that have done as well at hosting as Tampa, both times.  I would have no problem at all if they had a once-every-five-years frozen four there.  Let's just say that if you are going to put it in a city without a college hockey team within 50 miles, better Tampa than Philadelphia or Washington.

Venues I have enjoyed the most:  Tampa, St Paul, Denver.  Venues I have enjoyed the least:  Albany, Philadelphia, Detroit (because Ford Field was awful).  I would say that I don't want any venue hosting more than once every 5 years, and I am willing to try just about anywhere in the US with a NHL rink.  But not Philadelphia ever least until they get a new rink.

Also, let me say that I would have less than zero interest in attending a round-robin frozen four.  That's just a terrible, terrible idea.



March 28th, 2017 at 2:10 PM ^

for each session.  It didn't hit 4000 for either session this year.

Such happens when your "closest" regional team is 400+ miles away.  And neither do you get the benefit of a Michigan or North Dakota (both travel well), as happened in 2016 (got both) and 2014 (North Dakota alone).

Definitely time for a change ....


March 28th, 2017 at 3:47 PM ^

My self and most of my hockey team was at Joe Louis.

It helped that we were all given copious amounts of free tickets...

but I enjoyed the game...  well I do have one story:

The stupid Pedabear of Penn St. was going around talking to children and offered my son and his friends to see the lockeroom.  I was like Fuck No!  If you are dressed in that stupid costume AND you represent a school that abused children, you probably shouldn't offer to take kids into the locker room.





March 28th, 2017 at 4:35 PM ^

being held on campus of the higher seed. I too am tired of watching these games from arenas, where the fans are disguised at empty seats. Put the games on campus and play in front of a packed house that is rocking the joint. Also like the idea of a 2 out of three 3 series. Get more great playoff hockey and I feel it would generate even more money as you could have a sold out arena for 3 games.

When you do something like having home series, then you only have 8 teams that have to travel instead of 16.

Like the idea of the rotation between the cities you mention for the FF. Need to do something to generate more interest in college hockey.


March 28th, 2017 at 7:02 PM ^

Agree with having the first round played at home arenas for the higher seeds.  Reward those teams that had the best regular seasons with a home game.  They do it for the NCAA lacrosse tournament.
Because of scheduling logistics and the possible loss of TV exposure due to competition with the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments on CBS, TBS and the ESPN family during the opening weekend that competes with the Sweet Sixteen for both of the basketball tournaments, I don’t know whether double elimination would work anymore in the opening round. The lacrosse tournament is single elimination.
If TV exposure would be important for the opening round, then perhaps NBCSN, FOX (with its regional networks; problem being that those FOX regional networks often are picked up by cable providers only by charging subscribers an extra fee for them) and ESPN3 would be places to start with negotiations for coverage of the opening round.
Playing the quarterfinal round by re-seeding the remaining teams and then having games at either the home arenas of the four highest remaining seeds or having two regional locations – one in the East and one in the West works for me.  The lacrosse tournament moves to two regional locations for the quarterfinal round.
Also agree that the Frozen Four ought to be branded as a “3M Plus One” every four years. They could start with Minnesota (Minneapolis/St. Paul), next year go to Massachusetts (Boston), then to Michigan (Detroit) and finish each four-year cycle in a city with an NHL franchise and some local attractions.  Chicago, Denver, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D. C., St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia could be thrown into the mix.
If the NCAA insists on having a regional quarterfinal round and an annual “Frozen Four Destination Wedding,” then the quarterfinal rounds could be rotated between Minneapolis-St. Paul and Detroit in the West, and Boston and a rotation between Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the East.


March 29th, 2017 at 12:36 PM ^

Things here I agree with:  Home sites for first and second rounds.

Things here I disagree with:  Just about everything else.

Keep the single elimination.  Best-of-three is nice, but the NCAA won't pay for that and ESPN won't show it.  Television doesn't want to show hockey; there is no way they would show 16-24 games in a weekend, when they get better ratings with women's basketball regionals.  Keep the bracket--no re-seeding.  Every college team sport has a bracket.  Make sure teams from the same conference don't meet in the first round, because that's an NCAA rule.  Regionalize the first round a little bit; maybe even the second round.  The frozen four round robin is a terrible idea for so many reasons.  (Although you should go to Saturday semifinals-Monday final, like basketball, instead of Thursday-Saturday).  Hockey is already the longest season of any NCAA sport; they aren't extending it by 2 weeks.  Also, no need to "rotate" the frozen four; just keep the current bid system in place.  There is absolutely no reason that any city or region should claim a right to host just because it's "their turn."

Instead of inventing these things that have no chance of being adopted, why not go to a format that the NCAA already uses--the lacrosse format?  First round at home sites, quarterfinal doubleheaders in 2 different places, and a Saturday-Monday final the third week of the tournament?  There is no argument the NCAA can make against it, because they already use that exact format in another sport.

Second best:  the field hockey format.  4 regionals hosted by #1, #2, #3 and #4.  Four teams advance to the finals.  Simple, and again there is no argument the NCAA could make against it.